The creation of visa-waiver agreements is fundamental for establishing relationships with non-EU countries and promote tourism in European communities. The ETIAS focuses on improving security and migration verification concerning visa-exempt nationals while abiding by the already established EU visa-free policy. This reinforced travel authorization program will provide travellers with their full visa-waiver status and optimize security checks in the Schengen Zone. In addition, early responses regarding entry-exit information to Schengen territory will allow non-EU visitors to plan their travel more easily.
Unlike the Schengen Visa, the ETIAS authorization doesn’t classify as a visa. Travellers who bear a passport from any Schengen visa-free country will remain exempt from a visa; only they will be asked to apply through a travel authorization through the ETIAS before the trip. The European Travel Information and Authorization System will be a straightforward procedure with a high rate (avg 95%) of positive replies and a short waiting period.
When applying for an ETIAS authorization, travellers will not need to provide biometric data or go to a consulate, as the ETIAS differs from a regular Schengen visa and thus less information is required. While applications for Schengen visa often need between 1 week to 60 days to be processed, the fully-online ETIAS framework will take no longer than 20 minutes to complete. Also, the ETIAS authorization will be valid for three years and multiple entries, making it longer and more flexible than a regular Schengen visa.
Essentially, the ETIAS will be a brief pre-travel procedure for non-EU travellers from visa-exempt nations which will optimize border checks in the Schengen territory.
The European Commission proposed the introduction of the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) in November 2016, aiming to optimize identification of non-EU travellers from more than 60 who enjoy a visa-waiver agreement with the EU.
The ETIAS will consist of an online application process in which visitors without EU citizenship will have to provide personal and travel information before reaching the Schengen territory. This automated system will allow EU authorities to detect potential threats to security as well as combat illegal immigration, while also facilitating border-crossing procedures.
Nationals of countries enrolled in the Schengen visa-free agreement will be subjected to an ETIAS application before leaving for Europe. The information provided by each ETIAS applicant will be cross-checked with other EU and international databases (within the laws of data protection) in order to avoid immigration and security-related issues.
Once the application is submitted, the ETIAS system will process the information, and in most occasions, the EU travel authorization will be issued in just a few minutes.
In order to enter the Schengen Area, visa-exempt passport holders will have to bear a valid ETIAS authorization, as it will be requested by the immigration officers at all Schengen border crossing posts. This process will optimize passport control procedures, minimize bureaucracy, speed up document verification, as well as maintain an effective risk assessment of non-EU nationals – which will, in turn, increase the number of entry approvals.
Development and Foundations of ETIAS
The ETIAS system should come into force in the start of 2021.
As an EU immigration legislation, the ETIAS will cover all countries within the Schengen territory including future members such as Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania.
Since it is built upon already developed databases, often reusing software and hardware, the initial operating costs of the ETIAS will be relatively low (€85 million), while its development costs should be about €212.1 million. After the ETIAS is implemented, the system will use the application fees to cover annual costs with maintenance and operation.
As Europe’s main information management agency, the EU-LISA will structure the ETIAS system and maintain its technical functions up-to-date. One of the EU-LISA’s main tasks is to create the ETIAS website and mobile app where ETIAS applications will be submitted and managed.
The Europol is an EU security agency able to source information which neither Schengen National Units nor other European databases can. Hence, with the help of the Member States, the Europol will primarily manage security data within the ETIAS watchlist. Alternatively, the Europol will assist ETIAS National Units in the event of a hit during data processing by the ETIAS system, while also supporting the implementation of screening regulations.
The ETIAS watchlist will be yet another database against which information from ETIAS applicants will be verified. Both Europol and Member States authorities will provide background information on non-EU travellers who might have been involved in criminal acts, thus compiling the ETIAS watchlist with relevant security data.
There will be three main elements to the ETIAS: the ETIAS Information System; the ETIAS Central Unit; the ETIAS National Units.
ETIAS Information System
This part of the ETIAS will consist of:
- a central application processing system;
- a series of National Uniform Interfaces across the Schengen Area, which will link each EU country to both the central application system and national agencies;
- a safeguarded communication system between ETIAS national agencies and the central application system;
- the ETIAS website and mobile app;
- a number of features within the ETIAS framework, such as an e-mail service and data management tools.
ETIAS Central Unit
The Central Unit of the ETIAS will be directly connected to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which will operate 24/7. The four main tasks of the ETIAS Central Unit will be:
- managing the application files and the validity of recorded data;
- in case the automated system is prompted, the Central Unit should verify both the ETIAS application and the applicant’s identity;
- keeping the ETIAS screening policies up-to-date by constantly testing and evaluating risk assessment processes;
- conducting regular reviews and improving management of the impact of the ETIAS on data protection and privacy rules.
ETIAS National Units
Each Schengen Member State will have its own ETIAS National Unit which will take over an application in the event the automate system rejects it and be responsible for its risk assessment. Another task of National Units will be to assist applicants in the appealing process.
In addition to these three main infrastructures, the ETIAS system will also feature two secondary structures: the ETIAS Screening Board and the Fundamental Rights Guidance Board.
– The ETIAS Screening Board will include representatives of the Europol, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency as well as each ETIAS National Unit. The Screening Board will be directed by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, and its main purpose will be sharing advice regarding the management of risk factors and the creation of the ETIAS watchlist.
– The Fundamental Rights Guidance Board will be chaired by members of the European Data Protection Board (including its supervisor), the Fundamental Rights Agency, and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. The board’s key objective will be to guide the ETIAS Screening Board in terms of assessing the effects of ETIAS regulations on fundamental rights.
Fewer information gaps and more security
The ETIAS has been developed according to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and within the highest data protection standards, ensuring that the access to personal data is limited. Also concerning the transparency of ETIAS operations, the European Commission has instituted the right of individuals to redress information when needed.
Hence, all ETIAS personal data will only be stored for as long as it’s needed, which are either:
- the duration of a given ETIAS authorization or,
- a period of five years starting from the last refusal, revocation or annulment of an ETIAS application/authorization.
In case the applicant allows his/her data to be stored for longer, this additional period will not extend to more than three years after the ETIAS authorization has expired. Once the data storage period has ended, the ETIAS Central System will automatically delete the personal data together with the application file.
Meanwhile, EU authorities or agencies like Europol will need to provide a relevant reason to access personal ETIAS information. These may include the prevention of terrorist events or high-level criminal acts, but otherwise, conditions for an ETIAS data request are very strict.
Because the ETIAS application will conduct a thorough check on each applicant, Schengen authorities will be able to determine whether the non-EU traveller poses a risk to the security or public health of EU citizens. The ETIAS will also combat irregular migration by screening travellers before they reach EU borders, thus decreasing human trafficking and cross-border criminality. Moreover, all ETIAS data may be shared with EU authorities – such as Europol – or other national law enforcement agencies, in order to detect and prevent crimes or terrorist acts.
Once an ETIAS application has been submitted, the system will automatically cross-check the information provided by the visa-free traveller against the following databases:
– SIS (Schengen Information System)
– VIS (Visa Information System)
– EES (Entry-Exit System)
In addition, the ETIAS system hopes to have access to the ECRIS-TCNs database, which deals with information concerning non-EU citizens’ criminal records in the European Union.
One of the fundamental roles of the ETIAS is to be communicative and interoperable, exchanging information with other existing EU security systems, such as the Entry-Exit System (EES). Such link with other systems will extend as far as sharing software and hardware elements with the EES. However, the main link between the ETIAS and other databases – like the Visa Information System (VIS), the Schengen Information System (SIS) or the Europol, for example – will be the sharing of information on non-EU travellers.
Since the introduction of the Schengen visa-waiver agreement, EU border authorities have had limited information regarding non-EU visitors coming into European territory. This is not an issue with travellers from countries who need to apply for a Schengen visa as their information and travel history is verified by the Visa Information System (VIS). Hence, the ETIAS will gather relevant travel info on visa-exempt nationals so to identify any risks to the health or safety of EU communities, as well as manage irregular migration.
The ETIAS Framework
Despite having a 3-year validity, any ETIAS authorization can be annulled or revoked in case the conditions agreed upon application have been broken or no longer apply.
Once at a Schengen border checkpoint, the immigration officer will scan the traveller’s passport, automatically accessing information from various databases, including the ETIAS. If the non-EU national hasn’t got a valid ETIAS authorization linked to their travel document, the officer shall refuse entry and add a record to the Schengen Entry-Exit System. When an ETIAS authorization is matched, a normal border control check will be carried out, and the EU officer may or may not authorize entry into the Schengen territory, depending on whether the Schengen Border Code conditions have been fulfilled.
Besides regular travel document verification, all international carriers (air, sea, and land) coming into Schengen territory will have to check if travellers hold a valid ETIAS authorization prior to boarding.
The ETIAS authorization will have a 3-year expiry date on a given passport but shall be renewed if the travel document expires.
In the event an ETIAS authorization is refused, applicants may appeal the decision. These shall be directed to the Schengen country to which the applicant requested the ETIAS and the procedure will abide by the laws of that particular Member State. The ETIAS agency will inform applicants about the guidelines for appeal, as well as contact information for the designated national authority. Should the non-EU traveller find the decision to be unfair, he/she holds the right to make further requests.
All visa-exempt nationals will have to fill out the ETIAS application either through the official website or mobile app. This process should take between 10 to 20 minutes and require nothing more than a passport (or another valid travel document). The applicant who is underage, illiterate, has no access to or is unable to manage the technology may have their applications submitted by someone else.
There is a processing fee for each ETIAS application, which will consider possible technological restrictions in the applicant’s country so as to include the ideal means of payment. Once the payment is confirmed, the ETIAS system will process the information, and in most cases, an automated approval will be generated within minutes.
If any of the ETIAS partner databases identify a threat or if the automated system is unable to make a decision, either the designated Schengen Member State or the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will handle the application manually. In such occasions, the visa-free travellers from non-EU countries can expect a response within 96 hours. Around 3-4% of applications that go through a second check will be granted an ETIAS authorization, while the other 1-2% will be processed manually by the ETIAS National Units.
There is also the possibility of applicants needing to provide further information, but those are very rare. Regardless of circumstances, the maximum waiting period for a final decision from the ETIAS is four week from the date of payment. Once a decision is reached, either the travel authorization will be sent to the applicant’s email, or he/she will receive a written explanation for the refusal.