New checks are due at the EU’s external borders in five months but there is still no information about what will be done at key UK ports to avoid long delays for travellers to France.
The EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES) is due to start on May 1 and means all non-EU nationality visitors must have a photo and their fingerprints taken and their passport scanned on a first trip to the bloc.
The data will be stored for five years.
Dedicated booths for this are being planned in France, especially in airports, but there is no sign of them being installed at Dover, London St Pancras or Folkestone, where there are French checks to board ferries and trains.
The UK sites are short of space and there are fears of long delays.
British in Europe (BiE) campaign group treasurer Christopher Chantrey said: “I think the launch of EES will be terrible: more queues, more congestion, and more bad feeling among passengers.”
For subsequent trips, passports will be scanned and the traveller’s entry to, and exit from, the Schengen area recorded in a database.
Passport stamps will end
Passport stamps will end. EES, which was delayed from this spring, is not related to Brexit – it was first planned in April 2016, before the UK referendum in June of that year.
It aims to keep better track of non-EU citizens limited to 90 in 180-days visits. It will not apply to foreign residents in the EU with residency cards and long-stay visas but it is feared they will be caught up in queues.
Mr Chantrey asked: “How will the system distinguish between people with Withdrawal Agreement [WA] cards who are not concerned by this and visitors who are?
And there is no space for new installations for all of this. The Gare du Nord and St Pancras are absolutely crammed as it is. “They are at peak capacity and full of people before trains set off. The same at Dover.
“The expectation when Eurostar was set up, or the port in its current form, was the UK would always be an EU state and not need this.”
Etias, a requirement for online travel permission, with a €7 fee for adults under the age of 70, is then set to launch in late 2023. This fee will only be payable once every three years, as this is how long the travel authorisation will last once granted.
The Connexion contacted the Port of Dover. Its chief executive Doug Bannister said he has “no information” on how the data will be collected. He had, however, heard that for cars boarding it could take two minutes, plus another two minutes per passenger so 10 minutes for a family of four, compared to the current minute-and-a-half.
“We also heard there could be technology such as an iPad with handholds to register fingerprints, but we have not trialed it.
“How do you pass it around a car? What happens if there is a child asleep or if it is a dark, stormy night and the lighting is inappropriate?” he asked.
A Eurostar spokesman said: “We have not got anything further [on preparations] to share at this stage – we continue to work with governments on it.”
Getlink (Eurotunnel) also had no details.
Director of public affairs John Keefe said the firm is “working closely with the French and British governments to prepare”.
“We have plans in place to ensure customers are helped through the process.” Asked about preparations and what funding or equipment is involved, a Home Office spokesman said the EU is introducing EES and it is EU states’ responsibility to implement checks.
“We are working closely with port authorities, operators and the French government to make sure passengers are prepared and do not experience unnecessary delays,” he said. BiE co-chair Jane Golding expects “teething” problems.
“The sooner we know exactly what is happening, the better. “There were issues when the [Brexit] WA was implemented, with confusion over the treatment of card-holders.
They still face issues sometimes but now there will be a general issue too.”
A French Interior Ministry spokeswoman said French and UK authorities and operators will “pay attention” to the issue of longer waiting for checks.
To speed things up, some borders in France will be equipped with pre-registration points to scan passports and take photographs and fingerprints to save time at the desk with an officer.
It is “possible” these could be installed at the UK’s French border points and this is under discussion between the French, British and operators, she said.
Not like to see WA card beneficiaries being delayed
Justine Wallington, co-chair of the Rift support group for Britons, said she would not like to see WA card beneficiaries being delayed, as they have already been checked for the biometrics to obtain their cards.
“Speeding them and others with cards through any queues may ease the work of border control, so perhaps we’ll see this but, personally, I foresee a mess.”
Senator for the French abroad Olivier Cadic, who lives in Kent, said a lot of infrastructure was likely to be needed at St Pancras. “It is a worry but there is no obvious solution as it cannot be done at distance, to avoid fraud.
Being an isolated country is going to make things more complicated for the UK.”
In general, however, he welcomed further strengthening of the Schengen borders to combat terrorism and keep better track of movements.
Fingerprints are needed to avoid identity fraud, he said.
“So, yes, there are questions on the infrastructure and how it will initially work. Changes like this are destabilising. We will be monitoring how it goes when it starts next year.”