Focus


ETIAS, what it means for travellers; what it means for Frontex

2018-10-09

Background

What?
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is a system for granting authorisation to travel to the external borders of the Member States. The final decision on crossing the external border lies with the destination Member State. ETIAS will carry out pre-travel screening to assess the security and migration risks of travellers who benefit from visa-free access to the Schengen area, and thus allow Member States to deny authorisation to travellers considered to pose a security threat, or a risk in terms of irregular migration or public health. In order to cross an external Schengen border, visa-free travellers will need to have both a valid travel document and an ETIAS authorisation.

Why?
EU Member States’ border management authorities currently have little information about travellers exempt from visa requirements entering the EU. ETIAS will therefore be an important means of addressing this information gap by supporting security screening and risk assessment of travellers, reinforcing the internal security of the Schengen Area.

When?
The ETIAS Regulation was passed by the European Parliament on 5 July 2018. The adoption was confirmed formally by the Council of the EU on 5 September and officially signed by the two co-legislators on 12 September. It enters into force on 9 October 2018. The ETIAS legal framework is still in the course of completion with Commission implementing and delegated acts.

ETIAS is due to become operational by the end of 2021. Full implementation is expected in the course of 2022.

Q&A

Q: What is the role of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) in ETIAS?

A:
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) will be responsible for setting up and running the ETIAS Central Unit. Operating on a 24/7 basis, the ETIAS Central Unit will have several key tasks, including:

  • where necessary, verifying travel authorisation applications with regards to a traveller's identity in cases of a match against one of the databases checked during the automated process
  • defining, testing, implementing, evaluating and revising specific risk indicators contained in the ETIAS screening rules
  • carrying out regular audits on the processing of applications and on the implementation of the ETIAS screening rules, particularly concerning their impact on fundamental rights, privacy rules and data protection
  • ensuring that the data stored in the application files and the data recorded are correct and up to date
  • providing information about ETIAS to the general public
  • establishing and operating a help desk for travellers.

Q: What other components will go to make up ETIAS?

A:
ETIAS will be composed of the ETIAS Central Unit, the ETIAS Information System, and the ETIAS National Units.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency will be responsible for the ETIAS Central Unit (see above).


eu-LISA will be responsible for the development and the technical management of the ETIAS Information System, comprising, among others:

  • a central system to process the applications
  • a national uniform interface in each Member State that connects the central system and the national infrastructures
  • a secure communication infrastructure between the central system and the national uniform interfaces
  • a public website and a mobile app for mobile devices
  • an email service as well as a number of tools for applicants, such as an account service, a verification tool, and a tool to provide or withdraw consent for data retention beyond the general retention period.

Member States will establish ETIAS National Units, which will have primary responsibility for:

  • conducting risk assessments on applications that have matched information in one of the databases checked during the automated process
  • taking final decisions on whether to accept or turn down these applications
  • providing applicants with information on appeals procedures
  • managing the ETIAS watchlist, together with Europol.

Europol will primarily be responsible for:

  • providing opinions to Member States when consulted on applications 
  • managing the ETIAS watchlist together with Member States.

Q: How will the ETIAS system work?

A:
ETIAS will cross-check identity data provided by travellers in their application against a number of databases. If there is any concern regarding a particular traveller, the application will be further verified and processed manually.

ETIAS will initially check against the following databases:

  • existing EU information systems:
    - the Schengen Information System (SIS)
    - the Visa Information System (VIS)
    - Europol data
  • future EU information systems:
    - the Entry/Exit System (EES)
    - new Eurodac database
  • Interpol databases:
    - the Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Document database (SLTD)
    - the Interpol Travel Documents Associated with Notices database (TDAWN)
  • a dedicated ETIAS watch list and specific risk indicators.

Q: How long will it take to obtain an ETIAS authorisation?

A:
ETIAS is planned as a simple, fast and visitor-friendly system: completing the online application should not take more than 10 minutes, and automatic approval should ensue within a few minutes in more than 95% of cases.

If the case needs to be handled manually by the Central Unit, managed by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, and thereafter followed up by the National Units, the response time can be prolonged by up to 96 hours. In exceptional circumstances, further information may be asked of applicants and further procedural steps could be necessary.

Q: How many travellers will be affected by ETIAS?

A: Currently, people from around 60 countries worldwide do not need a visa to enter the EU. A detailed list is available here.

There are approximately 1,885 official border crossing points into the EU. These processed 565 million external border crossings in 2014, a figure that is forecast to rise to 887 million in 2025. EU citizens will make up two-thirds of these border crossings, and of those non-EU citizens crossing the EU border, it is estimated that approximately one third will come from visa-exempt countries.

Discussions on the status of countries currently in talks with the EU to enjoy visa liberalisation may also have an effect on the number of people applying for ETIAS authorisations in the future.

Q: How will border checks change after the introduction of ETIAS?

A: Border guards at Schengen border crossing points will scan travellers’ document data electronically and register them in the Entry/Exit System, thereby triggering a query to ETIAS. If the traveller is in possession of a valid travel authorisation, the traveller will be able to continue their journey if all other entry conditions are fulfilled. If there is no valid ETIAS travel authorisation, the border guards will refuse entry and record the traveller and the refusal of entry in the Entry/Exit System.

Q: How many employees will be needed for ETIAS to function?

A: By the time ETIAS becomes operational, it is estimated that Frontex will employ 250 dedicated staff in the Central Unit. eu-LISA is expecting to hire some 40 members of staff. Member States will be responsible for adequately staffing their own ETIAS national units.

Q: How much will it cost to obtain an ETIAS authorisation?

A: Travellers will have to pay a one-off €7 fee, with travellers below 18 and above 70 years of age exempted from this payment. Once issued, the authorisation will be valid for three years and for an unlimited number of entries. However, the travel authorisation may be revoked or annulled should the conditions for issuing it no longer apply.

Q: How much will the ETIAS system cost to operate?

A: The operational and maintenance costs of the ETIAS Information System, the ETIAS Central Unit and of the ETIAS National Units should be covered entirely by the revenues generated by the fees.

Q: Who will be affected by the introduction of ETIAS?

A: ETIAS will only apply to nationals of countries and territories who enjoy visa-free travel to the Schengen Area. Nationals of EU Member States and nationals of Schengen Area countries will not need an ETIAS authorisation.

  • Disambiguation: a Norwegian returning home from Brazil via Portugal would not need an ETIAS authorisation, as Norway is a member of the Schengen Area even though it is not an EU Member State.

Nationals of countries exempt from the requirement to hold a visa to enter the EU will need to be in possession of an ETIAS authorisation only if they wish to cross a Schengen external border.

  • Disambiguation: an Australian will need an ETIAS authorisation to travel to Switzerland, which is not an EU Member State but is a member of the Schengen Area. However, the same Australian traveller will not need an ETIAS authorisation to travel to Ireland, which is an EU Member State but not in Schengen.

Q: What information will travellers need to provide to obtain an ETIAS authorisation?

A: Under the ETIAS Regulation, individuals will have to provide basic information about their identity, travel document, level of education, and occupation, as well as answer a number of background questions concerning issues such as previous stay in conflict zones or criminal convictions.

Q: Are there any countries where similar systems to ETIAS have already been introduced?

A: ETIAS has similarities with systems already used in a number of countries, first and foremost the United States (electronic system for travel authorisation - ESTA), Canada (electronic travel authorisation - eTA) and Australia (electronic travel authority - ETA).

Q: Will the introduction of ETIAS have any repercussions for the economy and business?

A: ETIAS will have an effect on the transport industry:

  • Carriers will have to systematically check that visa-exempt third country nationals travelling to the Schengen area are in possession of an ETIAS authorisation before they can board
  • Even today carriers may be liable in accordance with EU rules if entry is refused at the border, and they will remain responsible for repatriating the refused traveller at their own cost, in addition to a possible fine for faulty processing
  • With ETIAS in place, carriers may also be liable if they transport passengers without an ETIAS authorisation
  • International airline associations have expressed their support for ETIAS for increasing border and flight security, but have stated the need to develop a user-friendly application process and to avoid longer waiting times for passengers.

Q: What rights does an individual have whose ETIAS authorisation has been turned down?

A: If authorisation is refused, the relevant national authority will have to inform an applicant within 96 hours about the decision or within four weeks in cases when more information has been requested. The national authority must also provide the applicant with information about applicable national law, the necessary authorities to contact, how to lodge an appeal, and any relevant deadlines. In case of refusal, applicants always have the right to appeal. NB A previous refusal of a travel authorisation will not lead to an automatic refusal of a new application.

Q: Will fundamental rights be endangered by the introduction of ETIAS?

A: The ETIAS Regulation respects fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. Data processing must not lead to any form of discrimination or breach of respect for human dignity, integrity and fundamental rights. 

The ETIAS Regulation contains all necessary safeguards to ensure a just and adequate process. Member State law enforcement authorities and Europol will have access to ETIAS, under strictly defined conditions, for the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences.

Personal data recorded in the ETIAS system will not be kept for longer than is necessary for its purpose. It will be stored for the period of validity of the travel authorisation, or for five years from the last decision to refuse, revoke or annul the travel authorisation.

In addition, representatives of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the European Data Protection Supervisor, the European Data Protection Board and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights will take part in a Fundamental Rights Guidance Board, an independent advisory body to assess the impact of processing applications and the screening rules on fundamental rights, and provide guidance to the ETIAS Screening Board.

Q: What happens if a traveller’s data matches the information in one of the checked databases?

A: Of the estimated 5% of applications that may match the information in one of the checked databases, it is expected that 3-4% will receive a positive decision after the ETIAS Central Unit carries out a manual verification. The remaining 1-2% will be transferred to ETIAS National Units for manual processing and a final decision.

Further information

European Commission press release
European Commission memo
European Parliament press release
European Parliament briefing

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