The new coronavirus that spread across the world in a couple of months revealed in an unprecedented way the level to which today’s economies depend on each other.

Europe’s new visa waiver program

At the beginning of 2020, governments, businesses, and societies had to halt plans, lower growth expectations, and turn on to a survival mode. Even Brexit was put on halt for months. Education is still led distantly, offices are closed, and tourism, including air traffic is suffering its worst decline ever.

In the lights of this global crisis, the European Commission announced the kickoff of the long-awaited ETIAS. The new European Travel Information and Authorization System will become operational at the end of 2022. It will however be mandatory as of 2023.

Travelling with ETIAS in times of a global pandemic

The question is, will the possession of an ETIAS be enough to board on plane in times of global pandemic?

Well, not really.

Although mandatory as of 2023, if the Covid-19 Situation is still present, this travel permit alone will not be enough to ensure entry to the European countries. Local regulations such as flu tests and vaccination passports, may be put on place too.

Transition period for the EU border agencies

ETIAS will become fully operational before the end of 2022. Visitors to the EU and to the Schengen Area will have the opportunity to apply for their online travel authorizations. The ETIAS document will however become obligatory as of 2023. This transition period will help the border agencies fit and fix the way the new entry system works.

EU’s serious intentions on its new Visa Waiver Program

Frontex, the EU’s border authority, is on the final path of the ETIAS kickoff. In January 2021 it started recruiting different level specialists for the new European Travel Information and Authorization System.

The recruitment process is not over yet. Specialists are being wanted for all the agencies that will operate the new European Visa Waiver Program. The national ETIAS centers in charge of the manual scanning of the applicants are also hiring.

Although no official website nor ETIAS application form are yet existing, it is already known that applicants will have to provide details on their:

  • Names and passport
  • Potential double citizenship
  • Address, email, and phone number
  • Personal details of a third party in case the application is completed on behalf of someone else
  • Educational status and occupation
  • EU country of first entry

The form will also contain several eligibility questions. They will concern applicants’ health status, former visa refusals, and potential criminal charges and terrorist affiliation.

The Status Quo and the Schengen Area Visa Waiver

Currently, the citizens of visa-free nations have access only to the Schengen Area states. All they are asked to do is to present their passports at the border.

Having only 5 members in the beginning, the Zone grew up to 26 states.

Today, the Schengen Zone comprises of 26 European states in both in and out of the EU. Over the past 36 years, it is ensuring the free movement of its 400 million citizens, goods, and tourists from third countries.

So, why making it more complicated?

The Zone has had only one meeting since its establishment back in 1985. It was held on 30 November 2020 and it revealed the needs of global changes. Among these changes is enhancing the information exchange between the security and border agencies, and here comes the need for the unified cross border system – ETIAS.

The changes to be introduced will prepare the Schengen Zone for major crises.
Not only because of the desire of new members to join the Club, but also considering the economic decline, the challenged social policies and the constant threat of terrorist attacks, the Zone and the EU will have to change the way they manage the free travelling.

This why ETIAS is seen as a way to increase the safety not only of the EU citizens but also of Europe’s visitors.