New EU systems for monitoring non-EU visitors to the Schengen area are now set to start from late September – but several UK-based travel firms are worried they will bring logistical problems.
Operators including Eurostar and Getlink – the company which manages Eurotunnel – say the need for biometric checks will cause difficulties for companies which they say do not have the space for the machines required for facial recognition and fingerprint kiosks.
Eurostar has stated it cannot see any "practical solution," meanwhile, the Port of Dover says "it wouldn't be safe" if people are required to get out of their cars to undergo checks. Eurotunnel operator Getlink has called it "an impossible task".
The EU is to begin implementing its new systems for non-EU visitors with the entry into force of the Entry/Exit System (EES) from the end of September. This will involve collection of information about passengers entering the Schengen area and is intended to eventually remove the need for passport stamps.
Then, from early 2023, non-EU travellers are also expected to have to apply online for travel authorisation under ‘Etias’ (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) before travelling.
These procedures will concern travellers to the Schengen area from third (non-EU/EEA/Swiss) countries who either hold a short-stay visa or who are exempt from short-stay visa requirements. This will include Britons, Americans and Australians.
The EES, which was originally planned to come in from May, will record at the border their name, type of travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and date of place of entry and exit, automatically calculating the amount of time they are permitted to stay in the Schengen area.
In addition, from next year, when a person travels to, for example, France from outside the EU, they will need to apply for prior entry authorisation through Etias via an online form. Etias will then check their details against EU information systems.
Up to 95% of applications are expected to be approved within minutes, but if further checks are required, the process could take up to 30 days.
When the person begins their journey to the EU, passport control officers will scan their travel document data electronically, triggering a query to Etias. If they have received prior approval they will be allowed to proceed, if not they will be refused entry.
The combined systems will replace the manual stamping of passports, which does not enable a systemic detection of people who are overstaying the period they are permitted to stay in the EU. It is therefore hoped that it will promote security within the EU, helping ‘bona fide’ third country nationals to travel more easily while also clamping down on document and identity fraud.
Foreign residents of France (eg. holding long-stay visas and/or residency cards or Brexit Withdrawal Agreement residency status) will not need to carry out this process, but will need to bring proof of their residency with them when they travel, along with their passport.
The new process is similar to the American ESTA system. Etias applications will cost €7 and approval, once obtained, will remain valid for three years.
Eu-LISA, the agency in charge of large-scale IT systems within the EU, is responsible for developing the programme.
Checks could be problematic for travel operators
“This is coming at us fast in a very under-developed way, and whatever the timing is, we don’t currently see a practical solution,” Eurostar’s Gareth Williams told the UK’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee in November.
Mr Williams said that the impact will “fall disproportionately at St Pancras in London, because that is where the predominant number of first-time entry to the Schengen area happens.”
A Eurostar spokeswoman told The Connexion that, having raised concerns about the impact on traveller traffic: “We are working closely with UK and EU member states authorities, as well as with our station owners, to prepare for the implementation of EES and Etias.”
John Keefe of Getlink has said that processing the number of people who will need to be verified through EES will be “an impossible task in the space we have available”.
“On a peak summer’s day, we would be carrying about 600 cars per hour, approximately 2,400-2,500 passengers,” he said.
“About 65-70% will need EES the first time round. So we’ll be looking at 1,600 or 1,700 people per hour to be processed the first time.”
The Port of Dover’s Chief Executive Doug Bannister has also told ITV that: “If that process requires people to get out of their vehicles and present themselves one at a time in front of a border authority officer, we don’t have the space to allow people out of their cars, it wouldn’t be safe.”
Why has the system launch been postponed?
The start of EES has been put back to September 2022 after encountering “substantial delays,” according to a letter written by the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union and acquired by not-for-profit investigative journalism organisation Statewatch.
The delays were caused in part by “the contractor of eu-LISA responsible for the development of the EES… despite the efforts of eu-LISA to keep the work on track.”
Other factors included a “number of member states report[ing] significant difficulties in implementation of the tasks related to the EES” and the “readiness” of the “platform to provide services to the carriers and travellers fac[ing] substantial delay as a result of a major disruption of global supply chains for hardware that is out of the control of the agency and the member states.”
However, “the Commission services are of the strong opinion that the target date for full implementation of all systems and their interoperability should remain unchanged: end-2023.”
Air, sea and other international carriers are already able to register for EES and Etias through the eu-LISA website, so that they can receive the necessary information that will enable them to prepare for the new systems.
Why are EES and Etias being introduced?
The idea of an EU EES was first introduced by the European Commission in April 2016, and the Etias Regulation was eventually adopted in October 2018.
The European Commission states that EES will “facilitate border checks, avoid bureaucracy and delays for travellers when presenting themselves at borders... and substantially reduce the number of refusals of entry at border crossing points.”
It adds that it will: “Help to identify any possible security concerns prior to [a person’s] travel to the Schengen area, thus contributing to more efficient management of the EU’s external borders and improved internal security.”
The combined systems will also create a database of non-resident, non-EU visitors who are in the Schengen area, giving more information to security services.
Etias and EES are not related to Brexit other than the fact they will apply to the UK due to it leaving the EU. It will apply to other countries as well and was under discussion before the 2016 EU referendum.