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

The Entry/Exit System does not concern everyone, but the delays it causes might

Paris, France - July 3, 2021: Random people, tourists and visitors at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport
The new ‘digital border’ will not remove the need for a human border agent
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The EU’s forthcoming digital border checks, the Entry/ Exit system (EES), have left many travellers confused as they brace for significant delays in autumn. We look at how the system will affect foreign residents of France.

The remit of the Entry/Exit system (EES) is to record the name, age, facial image, fingerprints, point of entry and exit for non-EU citizens over the age of 12 travelling to and from the EU for short visits.

This is, according to its official website, in view of “making border checks more efficient”, to prevent people overstaying in the EU, and to help fight terrorism and organised crime.

How will it affect foreign residents of France?

The EES does not concern holders of residency cards or long-stay visas. This includes the holders of Brexit Withdrawal Agreement cards.

It will only apply to non-EU nationals travelling for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180-day period or those with a short-stay visa (for up to 90 days).

Other groups not concerned by the EES are:

  • Nationals of the European countries using the EES, as well as Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland

  • Non-EU nationals travelling to Europe as part of an intra-corporate transfer or for the purposes of research, studies, training, voluntary service, pupil exchange schemes or educational projects and au-pairing

  • Nationals of Andorra, Monaco and San Marino and holders of a passport issued by the Vatican City State or the Holy See

  • Those exempt from border checks or who have been granted certain privileges with respect to border checks (such as heads of state, cross-border workers, etc.)

  • Those holding a valid local border traffic permit

  • Crew members of passenger and goods trains on international connecting journeys

  • Those holding a valid Facilitated Rail Transit Document or valid Facilitated Transit Document, provided they travel by train and do not disembark anywhere within the territory of an EU Member State

What will it change at the border?

At larger ports and airports non-EU citizens will be prompted to pre-register at special EES kiosks or terminals however this will vary depending on the location. These will be set up to take a photo and collect some passenger information.

They will then have to pass in front of a normal passport check booth, for final checks. 

Officials in St Pancras station, which manages checks at the French border, estimate that the EES will add “2 to 3 minutes” to the processing time required for each passenger, up from 45 seconds required at present. 

This, it says, could result in queues of up to one hour at peak times if the station is not upgraded significantly.

Holders of visas or residency cards are not concerned by the EES checks, but will certainly be caught up in these queues.

Who do I show my visa / residency card to?

The final border checks will still be performed by an agent who will check passports along with any visa or residency card. 

A long-stay visa or residency card means you do not need to go through specific EES checks, which are for people staying 90 days.

However, with the amount of uncertainty surrounding the rollout, it is likely there could be some confusion.

If you are processed by the EES system, just as with passport stamping (which happens sometimes even to holders of Brexit WA cards who are meant to be exempt) this will not alter your legal right to live in France.

Read more: France residents: If I enter via another country is passport stamped? 

Which border queue will I have to join?

Non-EU passengers, even if they have a visa or residency card, will still have to use non-EU queues.

In larger airports, as mentioned, there will be pre-registration terminals for the EES before people join actual passport check queues. If you have a visa or residency card, you will not need to use these terminals.

However, you may still get caught up in longer queues resulting from other passengers having to go through these more time-consuming procedures which will also include final in-person EES-related checks by border police/customs officers, including the taking of a fingerprint scan.

However, one new factor could further add to the likelihood of longer queueing. 

EES is expected to end the current system by which France allows some non-EU nationals, including Britons and Americans, to go through automatic ‘Parafe’ passport gates where these are in place (note that if they do so and they are visitors, they are still meant to look out for an official who can stamp their passport to monitor any overstaying).

It is therefore expected that non-EU passports will no longer be accepted at the Parafe gates once EES is in place.

This means that all holders of non-EU passports are expected to have to queue up in the ordinary lanes for manual passport checks. On arrival, they should proactively show their residency cards to avoid being entered in the system as an ‘EES’ visitor.