Australian Electronic Travel Authority App



Project Overview

It is approaching the new millennium and Sydney is preparing to host the 2000 Olympic Games.

The world is about to converge upon Australia with an impending flurry of visa applications from media organisations, supporters and tourists from 199 participating nations. The robustness of Australia’s visa application system is about to be stress-tested like never before.

How do you efficiently process an unprecedented surge in visa applications from nearly every country in the world without compromising essential security checks?

In a world-first, the Australian Government reinvents the visa process and the innovation catches on globally. The world’s first electronic visa product for visitors to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games becomes the new model for visas globally. Australia’s Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) is adopted as the norm for modern visa applications to digitise visa processes while maintaining the necessary border security checks.

Fast forward to 2021. Now, with another transformational innovation, a smart phone is all that is required to apply. Through application of best-practice design, an exciting new app overhauls both the user experience and business outcomes, once again setting the scene for the future of visa processing around the world.

Project Commissioner

Department of Home Affairs

Project Creator



- Department of Home Affairs
- SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques)
- Arq Group

Project Brief

The objectives of the initiative were to capitalise on new technologies to improve ETA processes, the traveller experience and add important new features for the visa program. The design simplifies the visa process for applicants through intuitive navigation, automation of data capture, flexibility to securely save data locally, proactive notifications and direct access to application status information.

Applicant identity and passport validation is enhanced through the use of device cameras and data validation capabilities. Additionally, new mobile phone communication technology leverages the digital security features embedded within the chips of electronic passports.

The Australian ETA app is the result of a collaborative co-design effort involving experts from the Department of Home Affairs, SITA and the Arq Group, who together represent many decades of business, domain and design experience.

Project Need

Accurately capturing important application data, directly from a trusted source, eliminates data entry errors and inconsistencies that impact visa processing and the traveller experience. The solution leverages emerging mobile technologies (Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Near Field Communication (NFC)) to capture and pre-populate critical passport and identity information directly from the passport.

The app’s use of simple and authoritative lookup lists further enhances the accuracy of data and the user experience.

The app authenticates and validates electronic passports through smart phone NFC at the point of application, rather than at physical borders. Access to the passport chip is obtained by using OCR to read the printed Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) on the inside of a passport and deriving the key. This key allows the chip to be read and digital certificates within the chip to be authenticated, ensuring the passport is genuine and has not been modified.

The addition of live image capture and liveness capability strengthens the identity information provided by the app.

Under a robust design, these important new checks are undertaken seamlessly in real time by the app without inconveniencing the applicant.

User Experience

While the ETA has been available to eligible travellers to Australia for more than 20 years, the recognition of a changing world, including improved technology and a more tech savvy market with enhanced expectations, drove the introduction of a new service channel through the Australian ETA app.

The discovery and research phase of the project involved understanding the persona and core traveller needs. It focused on obtaining an in-depth understanding of applicant, business and travel representative requirements and expectations to define the end-to-end future state user journey.

In developing a contemporary solution using advanced technologies, the team was cognisant of the need to present an intuitive and secure product, while delivering the complex capabilities relating to data capture, validation and auto-population, and identity verification. Comprehensive technical, integration and user testing was undertaken to ensure the solution was ready and that user centricity remained at the heart of the design.

From the beginning, the experience design process prioritised ease of use for the applicant with frictionless and intuitive user experience on iOS and Android platforms. The result is a solution that has been well received, with multiple users complementing the ease of use and convenience.

Continuous monitoring, analytics and user feedback is part of the solution methodology. The ability to update the app rapidly has enabled enhancements to assist with reading various types of passports, providing support on processing status and improved animation for instructional guidance.

Project Marketing

Since first introduced over two decades ago, the ETA has stood the test of time and now electronic visas are established as a standard channel for basic visa applications by immigration departments across the world.

After over 20 years of massive technology change, it was time to reinvent the ETA. New technologies and new paradigms create changing community expectations of access and service, especially when innovation is the engine powering change.

The app offers a simple and convenient way to obtain an Australian visa on iOS and Android platforms. The solution works for users with many different kinds of devices, masking complexity. The engagement of global user groups for testing different devices and gathering user experience information ensured the app works for everyone, across heterogeneous devices and electronic passport variations. Since deployment in October 2020, the app has already facilitated the travel to Australia of thousands of individuals during the pandemic.

Project Privacy

The project employed a Privacy by Design approach, beginning with a Privacy Impact Assessment to ensure that all instructions, data handling and storage complies with the Australian Government’s strict privacy requirements.

Terms and Conditions are clearly established within the app for the user to accept before proceeding. This explains how data is kept securely, as well as how it is used and protected.

All personal data is stored in a secure wallet on the user’s device and no data is shared with other stakeholders, except Home Affairs which requires the information to process the ETA applications.

To further ensure personal privacy, applicants are able to delete their personal details and previous applications from the app. In addition, all travel agent registered devices do not retain applicant or application data after the application is submitted.

The app utilises secure local storage and strong authentication protocols. All communication between the device and the backend systems is encrypted, ensuring ultimate protection and control over user data.

The provision of timely government services has been transformed as applications and sites are developed and implemented to either replace or complement previous methods. Be it the delivery of current and up to date critical information, compliance, community support and engagement, notification and registration or providing greater accessibility to government resources.
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