ETIAS Border Crossings
The soon to be introduced ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) will require all “third country” nationals who currently enjoy visa-free access to Europe to be screened before arriving in any of the ETIAS member states. The list of ETIAS members includes all European Union countries as well as European Microstates With Open Borders, such as Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City, and Future Schengen Member Countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania.
ETIAS is being introduced to combat the recent rise in terrorist attacks and incidences of human trafficking across Europe by strengthening border controls and monitoring travellers to, from and within the greater European area. This will be done by checking the information supplied on intending visitors’ application forms against a number of European databases in order to assess whether the applicant poses a security, terrorist, criminal or health risk. In most cases, applications will be granted almost immediately and the applicant will have ETIAS approval to visit Europe. However, possession of a valid ETIAS does not automatically guarantee the holder admission to the destination country as all passengers are still subject to border checks and may be refused entry for a number of reasons.
Whether the European destination country is reached by land, sea or air, it is the duty of the official carrier to check the status of all passengers’ passports and accompanying ETIAS approval. Without these a passenger may be turned away and will have to go through the entire application process again and, more than likely, lose the cost of the whole trip including travel and accommodation. However, being checked and passed at the point of departure does not mean admittance to the destination country is a certainty. Although this will most likely be the case, all arriving passengers are still subject to checks at passport control and by the country’s border security personnel.
At passport control, passports are scanned once again and the data collected then checked simultaneously against:
- The ETIAS Central Unit’s database
- The EES (Entry and Exit System) database
The ETIAS database will check that the ETIAS is still valid and also run the holder’s name through various interconnected law enforcement agencies for possible alerts. The system also checks for passports that have been reported as lost, misplaced, duplicated or stolen. The new EES compiles data on the traveller’s past destinations in the Schengen area and gives a detailed breakdown on how long each previous stay has lasted and whether the holder may pose a risk of overstaying or illegally staying in the country.
Border authorities have limited access to the traveller’s personal information stored in the ETIAS Central Unit’s database. Although the border guards cannot access all the information contained on the ETIAS and EES databases they can access enough to determine:
- If the ETIAS is valid
- If the ETIAS is limited to certain member states only
- The remaining period of validity
- Whether there are any alerts or “red flags” linked to the ETIAS or passport
Problems in any area may result in the ETIAS holder being refused entry but, even if no issues arise, the border authorities also have the power to deny entry if they have grounds to believe the holder poses a real criminal, terrorist, security or health risk. Such a refusal would result in the person being returned to the country of origin or another “third country” that will accept him or her.
Because ETIAS and EES are new systems there is always the possibility of technical or communication issues arising particularly in the early days. Initially, not all border crossing and entry points will have instant online access to ETIAS and EES databases and this may result in delays as information is checked and confirmed by other means.
Should communication between the border authorities and the ETIAS Central Unit fail, and thereby the means to verify an ETIAS, the country of entry can invoke its own contingency plan. This would allow border control agencies to temporarily ignore the necessity of checking the ETIAS status and use their own discretion as to whether the holder will be allowed enter the country or not. It is hoped that this will be a rare occurrence but some teething problems can be expected as ETIAS gets up and running in 2021.