April 12, 2024

What will the EU’s new entry-exit system mean for British travellers?

After Britain voted to leave the European Union and the government negotiated to allow British travelers to “become third-country nationals, subject to a range of restrictions, British passport holders must now have their travel documents inspected and stamped.

The next steps, likely to be introduced in autumn 2024, will involve more administrative burdens. The good news: stamping passports is coming to an end. The bad news: Every traveler must be fingerprinted and provided facial biometrics.

The European Union plans to introduce an “Entry/Exit System” (EES) that will record the movements of non-EU visitors. Shortly afterwards – mid-2025, according to the latest plan – future British visitors to the Schengen area will have to apply online for permission to enter.

The Schengen area includes most of the 27 remaining members of the European Union (but not Cyprus or Ireland), plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

The Electronic Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) is the next step in tightening border controls. It depends on whether EES is fully functional and will be released in mid-2025.

When introduced, the €7 (£6) online permit will be valid for three years.

What is the “Entry/Exit System”?

The Entry/Exit system is an automated IT system for registering citizens from “third countries”, i.e. anywhere outside the EU and the Schengen area.

The system is intended for such travelers when entering or leaving an external Schengen border, for example when flying from Britain to Spain or crossing by road from Greece to Turkey. (It will not be used for internal borders within the Schengen area.)

EES records the date and place of entry or exit, plus fingerprints and facial biometrics.

This system, the European Union says, “will replace the current system of manually stamping passports, which is time-consuming, does not provide reliable data on border crossings and does not allow systematic detection of crossings.”

British travelers, like other third-country nationals, are limited to a stay of 90 days within any 180-day period within the Schengen area. But enforcement of this currently depends on checking passport stamps and is applied haphazardly.

The new system will not apply in Ireland and Cyprus

When will it start?

The EES was originally scheduled to start in 2021. But the body responsible for implementation – the European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of ​​Freedom, Security and Justice (EU-Lisa) – has repeatedly changed the date because the database is still far from is done.

In October 2023, the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Council approved a new timetable for the roll-out of the EES.

The council said in a statement: “The new roadmap for the delivery of the new IT architecture foresees that the Entry/Exit system will be ready for use in autumn 2024.”

The independent understands that it should now start on October 6, 2024

How do biometric checks work?

Outbound and inbound passengers will go through formalities at airports abroad in a similar manner to U.S. immigration, albeit both in and out of the Schengen area.

Upon initial registration, they must submit to fingerprint checks and provide facial biometrics. On subsequent visits within three years, only one of these will be needed – and for practical purposes facial biometrics will be used.

Each new visit is valid for an additional three years, until the expiry date of the passport.

Sounds complicated…

Some EU members have expressed concerns about the extra time associated with the new processes, with the Slovenian government warning: “It will take up to four times longer to implement the new process.”

For land travelers it can be even worse.

Tim Reardon, head of EU exit for the Port of Dover, gave evidence to Parliament about the new system, saying: “There is no such thing as an e-gate for a car, and there is no such thing as an e-gate gate process for people traveling as a group. They are all one-by-one processes.

“There is no way to do a biometric check without getting everyone out of the vehicle.

“That’s the one thing on our site that can’t happen because you’re in the middle of live traffic. It would be like asking people to get out of their cars at a highway toll booth. It is fundamentally unsafe and it should not happen.”

In January 2024, MPs were warned that Britons traveling to Europe could face waits of 14 hours or more at border control unless measures are taken to avoid delays. Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee was told by Ashford Borough Council that 14-hour queues would be a “reasonable worst case” scenario if the plan were implemented as planned in October.

Gareth Williams, strategy director at Eurostar, which runs trains from London to France, said: “We don’t see a practical solution at the moment. If we take the peak of August, up to 80 percent of people will have to go through the system.

“We have a very extreme space challenge. We would need at least more than 30 kiosks, and an area roughly the size of our entire check-in area in St. Pancras.”

The rules will not apply to EU citizens.

When does ETIAS start?

The much-delayed scheme is now expected to start around six months after EES is operational – perhaps in spring 2025. A six-month “grace period” is likely to be granted, meaning it is likely that ETIAS will not be available for will be required later. 2025.

Is ETIAS a visa?

Officially, no. Europe says ETIAS is “a pre-travel authorization system”. It is a similar concept to the US Esta, the Canadian eTA and the UK ETA, which are not technically visas. They are issued to international travelers who do not require a full visa.

“Its main function is to verify whether a third-country national meets the entry requirements before traveling to the Schengen area,” the EU says.

But since ETIAS requires visitors to register in advance, provide a lot of personal information, pay money and obtain a permit to cross a border, it is not surprising that this is commonly referred to as a ‘Eurovisa’.

How much is it?

The fee is €7 (£6) for all applicants aged 18 to 70; while those under 18 or over 70 will still need an ETIAS, it will be free.

How do I apply?

When the EU is finally ready, the core of the system will be an ETIAS app and website. Travelers must provide personal information including name, address, contact details in Europe and passport details. They must also mention an occupation (with job title and employer). Students must provide the name of their educational institution).

The applicant must provide details of any serious convictions in the last twenty years.

Travelers must also indicate online the reason for their trip (holiday, business trip, family visit, etc.), specify the country they will arrive in first, and provide the address of their first night’s accommodation – which will pose a problem for tourists eager to travel . make plans along the way.

As with other online travel permits, commercial intermediaries are allowed – but according to Frontex, the EU organization implementing ETIAS, there are many scam sites likely charging fees well above the basic €7.

Any site other than europa.eu/etias is unofficial and should not be trusted.

One “imposter” site claims to have already processed 671 requests; this is impossible because no applications have been processed anywhere.

Another site offers a 40 percent discount for early signups. Some use the EU logo, which is illegal.

Frontex also warns of the risk of identity theft if personal information is provided to scam sites.

What happens to the information?

Each application will be checked against the EU and relevant Interpol databases, as well as against “a special ETIAS watchlist”.

The system will be tailored to detect persons suspected of involvement in terrorism, armed robbery, child pornography, fraud, money laundering, cybercrime, human smuggling, trafficking in endangered species, counterfeiting and industrial espionage.

How far in advance do I have to submit an application?

The European Union says: “We strongly recommend that you obtain the ETIAS travel authorization before purchasing your tickets and booking your hotels.”

The aim is for an ETIAS to be granted within minutes, but even a simple application can take up to four days.

If an application is flagged (i.e. there is a “hit” with one of the databases), the applicant may be asked to provide additional information. Alternatively, the EU says, the applicant may be asked “to participate in an interview with national authorities, which may take a further 30 days”.

Assuming your certificate is granted, no certificate will be issued and nothing needs to be printed. The border guard will obtain the necessary information from the passport you have applied for.

Can I appeal in case of mistaken identity?

Yes. Details of how to appeal will be included with the denial notice.

Once I have an ETIAS, am I guaranteed access to the Schengen area?

No. “The mere possession of a travel authorization does not confer an automatic right of entry,” the EU says. As in the US, travelers can be turned away for any reason.

There will likely be a mechanism in place by which an ETIAS can be revoked.

Do I have to apply for ETIAS every time I travel to Europe?

No. The permit is valid for three years, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.

Do I need an ETIAS to travel to Ireland?

No. The Common Travel Area, which includes Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, goes beyond European Union rules, and Ireland is not in the Schengen area anyway.

If I have a long-stay permit from one of the EU countries, do I need to apply for an ETIAS?


How are people without internet access supposed to sign up?

They are expected to ask a friend, relative or travel agent to make the application for them, in the same way as with the US ESTA and similar schemes.

Just remind us of the 90/180 day rule?

The rule, which Britain has asked to submit to after leaving the European Union, means British travelers cannot stay for more than 90 days in any 180-day period.

To give an example of what it means, if you spent the first 90 days of 2024 (January, February and pretty much all of March) in the Schengen area, you wouldn’t be able to return until the end of June.

Is Britain being punished for Brexit?

No. Work to strengthen the European Union’s external borders was already underway before Britain’s referendum on membership in June 2016.

ETIAS would be irrelevant if Britain were still in the EU. But the country voted to leave the European Union and the British government negotiated to classify British travelers as third-country nationals – creating additional red tape.

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