Around 1.4 billion people from over 60 countries around the world benefit from visa-free travel to the European Union. Starting at the end of 2022, these visa-exempt travellers will be required to apply for an ETIAS travel authorisation before they start their trip.
The EU will not be the first to introduce such a system: for many years now, visa-exempt travellers have had to apply for a travel authorisation to enter the US, Canada or Australia.
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System – ETIAS – is being developed to maintain a high level of internal security of the European Union, while ensuring smooth border crossings for travellers.
Currently, border authorities in Europe assess whether visa-exempted travellers pose a security, public health, or migratory risk when they have already arrived at the border. ETIAS will allow for that assessment to be done before the travellers start their trip.
“ETIAS is an important part of the digitalisation process of our border management, helping to ensure the resumption of international mobility in the post-COVID world with higher security and safety standards,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
The authorisation procedure in practice
Just like in case of Canada, US and Australia, travellers will apply for the European travel authorisation online, either using the ETIAS website or mobile application. They will also have to pay a fee of EUR 7.
In most cases, the online application will only take a few minutes to complete. The system will automatically compare the personal data submitted by the applicants with the data already stored in various EU information systems. In case of a ‘hit’, the application will be manually processed by the ETIAS Central Unit, managed by Frontex, and forwarded to the ETIAS National Units in Member States for final assessment.
It is expected that some 97% will be accepted in the automated procedure within 96 hours. The remaining 3% will be decided on by the ETIAS National Units.
An ETIAS authorisation will be valid for three years for the entire territory of the Schengen area, or until the validity of the travel document the applicant used expires - whichever comes first.
Setting up ETIAS is far from a simple task. The challenges are massive as the system will have to be very secure not only because it will have to process personal data of the millions of applicants, but it will also need to be connected to a variety of databases such as SIS, VIS, EES, Eurodac and ECRIS-TCN. Currently many of these systems do not ‘talk’ to each other, so making them interoperable is essential.
Considering the scale and complexity of this project, it is not surprising that 34 institutional actors are closely cooperating to make it happen. These include the European Commission, Frontex which is setting up its Central Unit, eu-LISA which is developing the IT systems, Europol which will provide its own data for the security screening of the application, and the authorities of each of the 30 European countries currently in the process of setting up their ETIAS national Units.
While most of the preparations happen behind the scenes, this month has already seen their first, tangible results.
Last week 41 new staff members joined Frontex to work at the ETIAS Central Unit. They include 28 ETIAS applications handlers, two team leaders, and 11 traveller & carrier support operators, who are currently testing the system developed by eu-LISA.
Once ETIAS becomes operational, they will process and screen applications from visa-exempt travellers who apply for an ETIAS travel authorisation and perform helpdesk assistance functions to support ETIAS applicants and carriers. It is expected that the number of ETIAS Central Unit staff will grow to over 200 in the coming years. Check here if you want to know more about the role of Frontex in ETIAS.
Getting carries onboard has also progressed this month: from now on, air and sea carriers as well as international carriers transporting groups over land by coach are able to register both for the Entry/Exit System (EES) and for ETIAS on the eu-LISA website. The registration enables carriers to perform a query in the EU IT systems before transporting passengers to the Schengen Area, as is their obligation under EU law. For more information about carriers registration, visit the eu-LISA website.