DALLAS – The European Union (EU) has launched its new travel rules for international passengers entering the Schengen Area.

The Schengen area gathers 22 of the 27 states that comprise the bloc, plus four other European states. The area allows citizens to travel from one State to the other without any border control. These 26 States also have a common border and visa policy for non-Schengen citizens. Note that this project was launched in 2016 and does not concern COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Before the new rules become mandatory, citizens from 61 states, including the US or the UK, can enter the area without needing a visa. They are allowed to stay for up to 90 days for business or travel in any part of the Schengen Area. Travelers from other countries still needed a visa in order to enter the Area.

However, this is going to change with the new ETIAS system.

These are the member states of the Schengen Area (in blue). Photo: European Union (ec.europa.eu).

New ETIAS Rules

The ETIAS is the European Travel Information and Authorization Scheme. It was first launched in 2016 to improve the management of the EU borders, fight terrorism and stave off irregular migration.

That same year, the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said, “We need to know who is crossing our borders. This way we will know who is travelling to Europe before they even get here.”

The ETIAS scheme requires passengers to apply for permission to travel to the Schengen Area at a cost of £6 for adults and free for children under 18. This electronic system will permit citizens from a list of 61 countries to visit the Schengen Area with this new pre-authorization method compared to a full visa.

The ETIAS scheme is modeled after the US system, which allows residents from 39 countries to travel visa-free for 90 days by using the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). In contrast to the US system, the EU system guarantees that passenger passes are valid for three years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first.

This new scheme is to be launched in early 2022 and should become mandatory by the end of the year.

The ETIAS is due to enter service by the end of 2022. Photo: EU (etiasvisa.com)

How ETIAS Works

The ETIAS document will collect non-EU citizens’ personal and travel document information, the arriving and departing country, background questions (previous criminal records, presence in conflict zones), as well as biometric information (fingerprints, facial images).

Passengers must complete an online application form to register for the initiative, after which the system will undertake checks against EU information systems, border control, and other security regimes. Travel authorization will be provided in a matter of minutes once all of the steps have been completed.

If nothing suspicious is detected, a valid 3-year travel authorization will be issued shortly. If the automatic check is not valid, the ETIAS staff will take over the case, with justification if there is a refusal. In case of a refusal, applicants have the right to appeal.

Once ETIAS becomes mandatory, airlines will check the documents prior to boarding, and passengers will go on to border controls at EU airports. While the document is to be mandatory, border control agents can still decide not to accept the citizen in the area.

These are the benefits the ETIAS should provide, according to the EU. Image: European Union (schengenvisainfo.com/etias/)

The UK Voices Some Concerns

The new scheme has brought some criticism and doubts from an old bloc member. In the UK, the House of Lords’ Justice and Home Affairs Committee wrote to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel to express its concern that the new rules were “likely to cause sustained delays and disruption” in travel. As many airports in the UK are already experiencing significant delays due to COVID-19 checks, with the new ETIAS, it could take even longer.

The UK committee is also concerned for its citizens. “They [the rules] could have serious consequences in the UK and for the rights and liberties of UK citizens, and the UK appears to be unprepared…Although the [scheme] is due to launch…several ethical, legal and logistical challenges remain unaddressed.”

While the EU says that the ETIAS will allow for a faster and easier process for passengers arriving in the Schengen Area, others say it will be a disruptive measure and hard to organize for airports and airlines. Until the new entry rules become mandatory at the end of the year, we’ll have to wait to see what the real effects of the scheme will be.

Featured image: Frankfurt Airport Terminal. Photo: Frankfurt Airport