7

I received this email from eta.contact@ivisa.com.au saying this:

enter image description here

When I tried to check in, the airline staff said that I was showing up on the computer as having no ETA. they swiped my passport right in front of me and showed me what it said on the computer screen. I was denied boarding and had to buy a new ticket! They said that having the confirmation email which says that the ETA has been issued, is not enough, and that we have to wait for it to also register on the computer system, and that this can take between 5 minutes and 2 days.

I have seen nowhere online where it says this (about 5 minutes to 2 days waiting time between receiving the ETA and being allowed to travel). Is it really true?

Also, should be done about this computer glitch? The airline wouldn't give me a refund because they said it's my responsibility to make sure I have the visa in time (I did have it when I tried to check in though!).

I have checked the status of my ETA on the official website:

enter image description here

This means that ivisa.com.au was not a scam and the Australian government does have my correct passport number as having an ETA in their system.

  • 4
    ivisa.com.au doesn't seem to be an official Australian government site. I would wonder if you applied through a third party that either messed up your application, or even just stole your money and sent you a fake confirmation email. – Nate Eldredge Jan 30 at 3:14
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    What happens when you follow the link in the email? – DJClayworth Jan 30 at 3:30
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    @NateEldredge According to whois, ivisa.com.au is owned by "CPS Systems PTY LTD" and gives a contact at SITA. CPS appears to be an official government contractor owned by SITA, and SITA is definitely not a fake company. – user71659 Jan 30 at 3:49
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    Is it possible that you mistyped your passport number on the ivisa web site? Australia wouldn't be able to match your name and passport number, they just have to use what you tell them. If you check in and your passport number is different, your visa won't show up. – Greg Hewgill Jan 30 at 3:57
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    When was your flight? When you did apply for your ETA? – Doc Jan 30 at 4:03
10

The short answer is I suspect that your ETA was not transferred to the appropriate system in time, possibly due to a system issue. The airline could have used an alternative procedure to verify your ETA, but chose to deny boarding instead.


Firstly, there are two systems which passengers interact with when travelling to Australia on an ETA. They are described extensively in this Australian National Audit Office report.

  1. The ETA System is the system that manages ETAs. It is developed by CPS Systems and is hosted on the SITA network. Travel agents and airlines have access to the system through the SITA network. Members of the public can access the system through the web site (for which they pay an AUD 20 fee to SITA when applying for an ETA).

    This is summarised by the following diagram, taken from the ANAO report:

    ETA system flows

  2. The Advance Passenger Processing (APP) system is the system that is used to check a passenger's Australian immigration status at check-in. The system, among other things, queries the visa database to see whether a passenger's passport has a visa record attached, which then determines whether the passenger can board. Check-in agents have access to this system through their departure control system.

    This is summarised by the following diagram, taken from the ANAO report:

    International passenger processing

What appears to have happened is that your ETA application was processed correctly by the ETA system, but the visa record was not updated in time to be accessible by the APP system when you check in. As a result, APP returned a do not board message.

What the check-in agent should have done is to follow section 4.5 of the APP manual, which states (emphasis added):

If the check-in agent receives an 8502 <DO NOT BOARD> they should:

  • Check that the correct minimum data has been entered (most mistakes occur in the nationality code and the spelling of the family name)
  • Check if there is a valid visa by completing a TIETAC or TIETAQ through the ETA System.

Had the check-in agent followed this procedure they probably would have found the ETA. Given the discrepancy, the check-in agent would then call the Australian Government's Border Operations Centre (BOC) to have it sorted out. The BOC can approve a government (G) override of the APP system to allow you to board.

  • I showed him the ETA right there on my phone, with the confirmation number and reference number. I had to purchase a new flight because of this, and I'm arriving a day late. They didn't give me a hotel or food vouchers. Since it was the check-in agent that did not follow section 4.5 of the APP manual, would I be able to get my money back? – Maxim F. Gelin Jan 30 at 10:17
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    @MaximF.Gelin Showing an ETA on a phone won't help, as the Australian Government specifically requires verification through the APP system. You can complain to the airline about the situation, but I'm not sure how they will respond. – k2moo4 Jan 30 at 10:28
  • You said that if there's no verification through APP, it can be made through the ETA system. – Maxim F. Gelin Jan 30 at 10:32
  • If the ETA System shows you have a visa and the APP system does not, the check-in agent would have called the Border Operations Centre to sort out the discrepancy. The BOC can approve a government override of the APP system. – k2moo4 Jan 30 at 10:35
  • He didn't do that :'( – Maxim F. Gelin Jan 30 at 10:36
2

I don't believe anyone other than the airline and/or the visa company are going to be able to give you a definitive answer (and they most likely won't actually do that, even if they can), however if I had to guess here's what I'd say happened...

First, lets cover a few facts :

You obtained your ETA via a third party, and not via the Australian Government directly as is normally recommended. In and of itself doing this isn't a problem, and there are many parties that can obtain ETA's on your behalf, including some that are (in some sense of the word or other) scams, but also many that are not.

The company mentioned in your email, "IVisa Services" from North Sydney was a valid business name, however their business registration was canceled in 2016. This could potentially be a sign of a scam, however in this case I don't necessarily believe it is.

ETA's are normally processed and approved instantly, however around 10% of them will take longer to be approved, generally after they are manually processed by a human. This can take anywhere from minutes to hours (or in the worst case, days). Even then, this presumes that the company you obtained the ETA though submitted it to the Australian Government immediately, which it's possible they did not.

ETA's are generally verified automatically by the airline systems. In the event that the validation fails the airline staff have a number they can contact to verify the reason for the failure and potentially receive approval to board the passenger if there has been an error.

Now, putting all of that together I can see two possible reasons you were refused boarding :

  1. Your ETA had not been processed at the time you attempted to board the plane, but was only approved sometime afterwards. This would explain why you can see it as being valid now, but the airline couldn't. Your email confirmation does say that it's already been approved, but given that this is an email from an unofficial source we can't be certain that it's reliable. It's possible that this company will always claim that it's been approved once it's been submitted, even if it hasn't been.

  2. The airlines validation of your ETA failed for some reason (eg, computer error), and they failed to follow the manual process to confirm you had a valid ETA.

  • 2
    There is no evidence that the OP used a third party. If you look at the About page on the ETA site, you see the site is operated by SITA and the charge will be by "iVisa Services". This matches up with the owner of the ivisa.com.au domain. A lot of government contractors have to set up entities in order to meet requirements for things like local ownership. – user71659 Jan 30 at 4:41
  • @Doc, how do you know that the airline is able to contact a number to verify the reason for the failure or receive approval to board the passenger? Do you have any source for this? The airline staff said there's nothing they can do (I even showed them my ETA number and my reference number and they said there's nothing the can do with it.... the manager literally said "it's a simple system, and the simplicity has it's pros and cons.... it's fast and efficient in that all you have to do is swipe the passport, but if it doesn't work there's nothing we can do" – Maxim F. Gelin Jan 30 at 4:48
  • @MaximF.Gelin I know there is a contact number because I have it saved in my phone... – Doc Jan 30 at 5:07
  • @Doc That very much depends on the airline. Due to the significant immigration penalties and the liability to return a passenger, I know some airlines will not allow agents to override their system without going to a high level department at HQ. The computers are tied in so that no automatic clearance = no boarding pass. – user71659 Jan 30 at 5:10
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    @user71659 No, it doesn't depend on the airline. It's universal procedure for check-in to Australia – Crazydre Jan 30 at 6:38

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