Inside the EU’s new travel information and authorisation scheme

With the aviation industry up and running once more after facing many setbacks brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, the EU is preparing to roll out new travel rules that include fingerprint checks. Frankie Youd explores these new regulations.

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From lateral flow tests to Covid-19 passports, isolation hotels and vaccine certificates, the aviation industry has implemented a variety of rules and regulations to ensure the safety of operations.

However, in 2022 this will all change again, as the EU has announced that two new sets of travel rules, titled the Travel Information and Authorisation Scheme (ETIAS) and the Entry/Exit System (EES), will be rolled out for non-EU citizens.

The scheme will see additional security measures put in place, such as digitally tracking name, type of travel document and biometric data such as fingerprints and facial images.

Despite the new technology offering a number of increased security measures, ETIAS has caused some concern within the industry, with many worrying it will increase delays and cause disruption.

Unpacking the regulations

At present, there are many countries not listed within the EU whose citizens are allowed to enter the EU Schengen area – an area made up of 26 countries including France, Spain, Italy, and Greece – without needing to provide a visa.

Citizens of these countries are allowed to enter the area for up to 90 days for business or travel purposes. However, the EU has called for increased management and security measures to be carried out at EU borders, which has led to the creation of the new ETIAS scheme.

The ETIAS scheme requires passengers to apply for permission to travel to the Schengen Area at a cost of £6. This electronic system will permit citizens from a list of 61 countries to visit the Schengen Area, with this new pre-authorisation method compared to a full visa.

The ETIAS scheme presents a similar design to the system found in the US, whereby citizens from 39 countries can travel for 90 days, visa-free, by using the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. However, compared to the scheme in the US, the EU system ensures that passenger passes are valid for three years, or until the passenger’s passport expires.

It is hoped that the new scheme will increase the security of the Schengen Area and make travel more secure.

In order to register for the scheme, passengers are required to fill in an online application form, which is checked against EU information systems, border control, and other security regimes. Once completed, travel authorisation will be granted in a matter of minutes.

It is hoped that the new scheme will increase the security of the Schengen Area and make travel more secure. Alongside this, the new ETIAS scheme will also improve the management of EU country borders, impede irregular migration, assist in detecting crime and terrorism, and reinforce the visa liberalisation policy of the EU.

Legal procedures to get the scheme in motion started in 2016, with the system now expected to launch in January 2022. The EU has stated that once launched the scheme will become mandatory for travellers by the end of 2022.

Alongside the ETIAS scheme, the EES system will see extra layers of security measures put in place to ensure passenger safety and security. Travel document registration, the passenger’s name, date and place of entry and exit, and biometric data including fingerprints and facial images are all set to be recorded when the system goes live in early 2022.

The system will be required to be used by passengers from non-EU countries, both short and visa-exempt travellers, and each time a passenger crosses an EU external border.

The ESS will not only record passenger entry but will also make a list of refusals of entry. This will contribute towards preventing irregular migration and help protect the security of the Schengen Area.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

The announcement of the new scheme brought with it much criticism, concern, and doubt from government officials with many questioning the ethics of the security measures. Upon publication of the regulations The House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee wrote to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to express concerns about the plans.

Within the letter, peers stressed that under the new EES system passengers will be required to undergo increased border checks as the biometrics are introduced, which are “likely to cause sustained delays and disruption”. Many airports across the UK are already experiencing huge delays, long passenger lines, and disruption due to the Covid-19 checks. 

The inclusion of these new EU regulations strike up the question of whether passengers 
going to experience another nightmarish experience, such as the ones seen at Gatwick Airport, where six to eight-hour lines were standard for checks.

Several ethical, legal, and logistical challenges remain unaddressed.

The letter continues: “They could have serious consequences in the UK and for the rights and liberties of UK citizens, and the UK appears to be unprepared. Several ethical, legal, and logistical challenges remain unaddressed.”

Closing off on the letter, the Committee encouraged the Home Office to work closely with the EU to increase public knowledge and awareness of the plan, in order to mitigate concerns.

Although these concerns cast a shadow of doubt surrounding the new EU regulations, the two schemes do provide a number of benefits with increased security being key. Paired with this the EES system will replace the current system of manual passport stamping which is a time-consuming process and does not allow for the systematic detection of overstayers. 

The system will also allow accurate, reliable data to be available for border crossing, and provide wider use of automated border control checks and self-service systems, which provide reduced contact and a quicker environment for travellers.

With the schemes hoped to be up and running by early 2022, we’ll soon see if concerns surrounding long passengers will come true, or if the launch of the scheme will lead to a smooth, speedy solution for non-EU travellers.