EES border checks: why your fingerprints may be taken twice

Data ‘kiosks’ are being installed at several Schengen area entry points and places like St Pancras station in London but they can not do all the requirements

Kiosks similar to these are being installed at key entry points to the EU to collect passenger data
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Non-EU visitors entering France from outside the EU’s Schengen area face new border check formalities from this autumn including, in some cases, potentially having to have their fingerprints scanned twice.

This is because at some entry points fingerprints are set to be collected by self-service kiosks along with other passenger data - however they are also expected to have to be given again when the person passes in front of a border guard.

This is reported to be the case for example at London’s St Pancras station where people board the Eurostar and French checks are carried out on UK soil.

It is hoped this doubling up may be ended in the future, but it is unlikely to happen in time for the start of the EU’s European Entry/Exit System (EES) in October to November this year.

The EES will collect details of entry and exit dates from the Schengen area, for visitors who are not EU citizens and not full-time residents of the EU. People holding short-stay Schengen visas (for up to 90 days) will also be concerned.

Read more: Widespread confusion over new checks at UK/France borders

Self-service kiosks are also being installed at major French airports. Some are already in place, for example in Nice.

These are intended to speed things up so that part of the data collection is completed before passengers pass in front of a border guard.

The kiosks will collect passport information – holder’s name, passport number, date of birth and nationality… – and passengers will also have to answer several short questions.

These relate to points that are in theory checked at the EU’s external borders already, under the Schengen Borders Code, however in practice most people coming on holiday in France from countries such as the UK and America have not been asked about them systematically.

They include the purpose of the trip, where you will stay and if you have sufficient funds for your stay and enough to pay for your return journey and/or a ticket for the return.

The kiosks are also equipped with scanners for fingerprints and to take facial images.

However, Nicolas Paulissen, general delegate of the Union des Aéroports Français (UAF), previously told The Connexion that, for reasons linked to EU regulations, it would be necessary to re-do fingerprinting at the passport desk, with supervision by the border police, even if prints had already been scanned at one of the kiosks. 

He hoped this issue would eventually be resolved. We have asked the European Commission for clarification on this point.

Read more: New UK/France border checks - visas, residency cards, and which queues?

People booking to travel to France via Eurostar will be sent the guidance when they book, including a checklist about the different stages.

The process at St Pancras is expected to include:

  • Reading the guidance so travellers know what to expect before they come

  • Scanning in their passports at self-service kiosks on arrival. These are also expected to take a scan of their fingerprints and take a facial photo (UAF said the kiosks they will install in airports require just the four fingers of the right hand to be placed on the scanner), and answer short questions

  • They will then wait in the departures area before being called to the security barrier for luggage scans

  • They will pass in front of UK border guards

  • They will pass in front of French border police and provide their fingerprints again and have a further photograph taken

Mr Paulissen previously told us: “We are worried. By the time people have understood how to place fingers, how to line up for the photo... Plus some of them will be less used to digital equipment and might not speak English or French.”

Eurostar says, however, it aims to “minimise the impact on our customers to ensure the smoothest possible travel experience and the detailed work required to achieve this has been underway for some time”.

A spokesperson added: "We have been working proactively on projections to accurately assess our needs across all stations. As a result, we plan to install around 65 pre-check-in kiosks in our terminals at St Pancras in London and Gare du Nord in Paris.

"We are also significantly reinforcing border control capacity with additional manual booths and electronic gates at both stations."

The company does not foresee additional delays at St Pancras as long as people take notice of guidance about EES that will be provided to them when they book, and come within the recommended check-in times.

It is not currently planning to advise people they need to come for check-in any earlier than the current advice to come 90 minutes before the departure time (for standard rate passengers).

Read more: EES in pilot stage, deal cuts ferry wait - 6 France travel updates 

We note that fingerprints are already scanned at the border for people who arrive in France on visas (the prints are taken in the person’s country as part of the visa process, then checked at the border). All visitors’ fingerprints are also taken on entry to the US.

A fingerprint scan is also completed at prefectures as part of the French process for residency cards. It takes a few seconds to do.

UAF’s Mr Paulissen told The Connexion that a planned ‘EU app’, which is hoped to help with some data collection before passengers even arrive at the station/airport, is not expected to be able to take either fingerprints or facial images. 

However, the app is still in development, and EU borders agency Frontex has expressed interest in finding out about potential ways in which an app could collect such elements.