The European Union is soon to introduce ETIAS but there still remains a lot of confusion as to exactly what it is, who requires it, the application process and how the system operates. ETIAS stands for European Travel Information and Authorisation System and, as the name implies, it is a method of collecting information not just about intending visitors to the European or Schengen Area and using that information to monitor an applicant's travel itinerary but also to determine if that person should be denied access based on criminal, terrorist or health grounds.
ETIAS is intended to begin in mid 2022 and become mandatory in early 2023 following a six-month introductory period during which any glitches in the system should be addressed and rectified. Once fully in place ETIAS will be mandatory for citizens of over sixty countries who currently enjoy visa-free access to Europe. Following Brexit, this list now includes the United Kingdom and British passports will have to be ETIAS approved before any journey to Europe can be undertaken.
Unlike a visa application where personal attendance is required, applying for ETIAS is done online (or via a soon to be introduced mobile app) and should take only a few minutes with more than 95% of applications expected to be approved. This approval, or refusal, falls into the remit of an ETIAS National Unit whose duty includes checking the applicant's identity and validating the personal details submitted.
National Unit in Every Member State
As part of the ETIAS roll-out every European Union member state must set up and maintain its own National Unit. These units make the ultimate call on whether ETIAS approval is granted or not. In order to protect EU citizens from potential terrorist, criminal or even health risks the ETIAS National Units must carefully examine each application and check the applicant's details through a central database which contains files and records from multiple sources including Interpol, Europol, Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency), SIS (Schengen Information System) and many others.
Although ETIAS National Units have other duties their chief responsibility is to assess each application and grant or deny the ETIAS. The approximately 4 or 5% of applications refused will be on criminal, terrorist or health grounds and this will occur if an application returns a “hit” when checked through the central database. In such cases the application will be forwarded to the ETIAS Central Unit which will run further checks on the applicant and the information provided on the application form.
An estimated 50% of these applications will pass the second screening at the ETIAS Central Unit but the remainder will then go to an ETIAS National Unit for final scrutiny and a resulting positive or negative outcome. In order to reach a final decision the ETIAS National Unit responsible will contact the applicant via email to request further information, details or clarification. In very rare cases where the problems cannot be cleared up via email an applicant may be asked to attend a personal interview.
Which ETIAS National Unit is Responsible?
When a non-EU citizen applies for an ETIAS which is refused it is the country from which the hit in the security system was returned that is responsible for dealing with the application. If, for example, an application triggered a hit in the system from a French police database then it it is the French ETIAS National Unit that must undertake further investigation and checks.
If, after all checks have been carried out, an ETIAS application is refused for whatever reason then the applicant has an automatic right to appeal. In such cases the applicant will be supplied with contact information for the relevant ETIAS National Unit including an email address, contact name, phone number and a physical address for written correspondence and providing documentation if required.
ETIAS National Units also have the power to issue an ETIAS with limited validity. This unusual form of authorisation will usually limit the holder to travel only to the country whose National Unit issued the ETIAS. This situation may arise for humanitarian reasons or because of national interest or security.
Another unusual form of ETIAS which may be granted allows entry to only certain named countries within the EU and Schengen Area. This form of ETIAS is also within the remit of the National Units who will make the necessary arrangements with the countries for which the ETIAS will be valid.
Powers of Revocation and Annulment
An ETIAS is granted under the proviso that details supplied by the applicant are true and complete and approval comes with certain terms and conditions attached. Should an applicant's situation change whereby the information supplied is no longer correct, or the conditions attached to the granting of the ETIAS are no longer being adhered to, then a National Unit has the power to revoke or annul the ETIAS. This situation may arise if the person's name is red-flagged in the ETIAS security database or in SIS or the person is the subject of an international arrest or detention warrant.
An ETIAS being revoked or annulled may also occur through no fault of the holder if, for example, the passport is lost or stolen. In all circumstances the ETIAS holder has the right to appeal any decision by the ETIAS National Unit responsible for the revocation or annulment.
Personal Data Protection
ETIAS National Units must comply with current European laws and regulations regarding the protection of personal data. Much of the information supplied on an application form is sensitive and very personal. To protect an applicant's data all information is stored and processed on secure servers and only a limited number of authorised personnel can access the central ETIAS Information System.
As is the case with personal data regulations, applicants who believe that information stored in the ETIAS Information System is incorrect have the right to contact either the ETIAS Central Unit or the National Unit believed responsible for the error.
The ETIAS Central or National Unit is then duty bound to check the stored data and make any necessary corrections, amendments or updates. After a thorough check of the information supplied the ETIAS Central or National Unit should inform the applicant in writing of the changes made and how it affects the current standing of an ETIAS or future applications.