In 2024, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will be rolled out and this will have an impact on how non-European passport holders must approach future visits to any of the European Union and Schengen Area member states. When ETIAS becomes a mandatory requirement in 2024, it will no longer be possible to arrive at an airport or sea terminal with just an ordinary passport as this will not be accepted unless it has ETIAS approval. ETIAS is electronically linked to a passport and can be scanned at any of the EU and Schengen Area border control points as well as by land, air and sea carriers bringing travellers into the European zone.
Not only this but an ETIAS passport will also be electronically updated to the EU's Entry/Exit System (EES) which will record the holder's movements within Europe each time the holder enters or exits any of the participating ETIAS countries. The EES record is the modern equivalent of a manual stamp on a passport and will detail previous EU and Schengen countries visited and the duration of each visit.
ETIAS and EES Checks
While citizens of the European Union and Schengen Area will continue to travel through Europe with no requirement for an ETIAS or visa the same rule will no soon longer apply for passport holders from a “third country” as the United Kingdom is now designated. An ETIAS approved passport will become mandatory for entry intro the European zone and because there are no longer internal border controls the EU Commission decided it was necessary to introduce some form of monitoring of foreign nationals within Europe. To this end, new EU law (regulations 2021/1217 and 2021/1224) were introduced which mandate that all carriers must carry out a check for the necessary ETIAS approval on passports and query the EES database.
While passport control officers and border crossing personnel can, and will, check a traveller's documentation, the first point of contact on any foreign visit will be with a carrier at an airport, ferry port, tunnel or international train station. For this reason the logical place to check a visitor's passport for ETIAS and EES will be at the relevant point of departure.
The carrier must:
- Ensure the passport holder has been properly approved for travel and the ETIAS is still valid.
- Check any EES record detailing EU and Schengen Area countries previously visited and question any irregularities such as overstaying the allotted time period, exceeding the number of visits allowed or deportation.
The carrier (airline, ferry, boat or train) bears the responsibility of ensuring that all passengers are properly registered for ETIAS and have the necessary documentation for travel. At the point of departure, the carrier will scan the traveller's passport to check the ETIAS and EES status and the result will determine whether:
- The passport holder possesses the correct validation and may proceed to board.
- There is an issue with the ETIAS and/or EES and boarding will not be permitted.
- It should be noted that even if the correct documentation is presented and a passenger permitted to travel this does not automatically guarantee entry to the destination EU or Schengen country as the final decision rests with the security and border authorities of the country in question.
Airline companies and other international carriers must register for both EES and ETIAS in order to comply with EU regulations. This will be mandatory from 2024 for any carriers wishing to carry on the business of transporting passengers to, from and within the European arena. Without being properly registered a carrier will not have access to the documentation and technological systems that will be required to operate the EES and ETIAS systems. Once registered the carrier has certain obligations including:
- Properly screening all passengers for ETIAS and EES before boarding.
- Responsibility of repatriating travellers abroad who are refused permission to board.
- Carriers who fail to meet these obligations by allowing a passenger to board without an ETIAS approved passport will be deemed responsible and subject to possible fines or sanctions.
Increased Security for Safer Travel
The main reason for the introduction of ETIAS is to increase security across Europe in light of the recent upsurge in criminality, illegal immigration and terrorist activity. Citizens of over sixty different countries currently enjoy visa-free access to Europe but European security and police forces have little or no information about these people. The ETIAS application process is designed to plug this information gap by gathering information regarding any intending visitor's criminal or terrorist background. Based on the information supplied, and following a check in various European security databases, an applicant will either be granted an ETIAS and the right to travel or refused the ETIAS and not be allowed to travel to or within Europe.
The ETIAS application form also requires the applicant to give details of serious medical conditions and a history of transmissible or contagious diseases which could also see an application being denied in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the possibility of future similar medical emergency situations.
Because of the criminal, terrorist and medical information supplied on the application form, the ETIAS Central Unit can make an informed decision as to whether an intending traveller poses a security or medical risk to Europe which is not currently the case with third country nationals. Until ETIAS comes fully into force in 2024, citizens of countries outside of the EU and Schengen Area who enjoy visa-free European access will continue to do so but that situation will soon end as
Europe seeks to protect itself from future acts of terrorism, criminality, illegal immigration and medical crises through the use of the EES and ETIAS protocols.