International Carriers and ETIAS
According to statistics there were almost two million illegal entries into various European and Schengen countries in 2015 and these numbers are expected to have increased since. For this reason, the European Union is introducing two electronic monitoring systems to combat the rising tide of undocumented travellers entering Europe who are eluding the current security checks. From 2021, visitors to Europe who currently enjoy visa-free access will be required to have ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) approval and all European entries and exits will be recorded on the Entry and Exit System (EES) digital database. The difference between the two systems is:
- ETIAS incorporates pre-travel screening on passengers and approval is necessary for “third country” nationals to enter, and travel within, the ETIAS member states
- The EES replaces the manual stamping of passports and is checked to determine the number of short-stay (90 days in a given period of 180) single- or multiple-entries a traveller has used and identify travellers who have overstayed on previous visits
Between the two systems, it is envisaged that ETIAS and EES will dramatically reduce the number of visitors who pose a security, criminal or health risk and also keep an up-to-date record of where travellers have been and for how long. While the new measures will give border authorities more information about visitors to their country they could prove problematic to air, sea and land carriers who will be tasked with implementing the new schemes.
Boats, Planes and ETIAS
The vast majority of “third country” nationals, who will require ETIAS approval after 2021, will arrive in Europe by air. Currently, airlines are only required to supply a list of passengers on board to the border authorities of the destination country. This API (Advance Passenger Information) is then checked by security and law enforcement agencies for possible criminal or terrorist connections. Unless specifically alerted, the airline has no information regarding a passenger’s background and can only check that the tickets and passport are valid and in order. With the introduction of ETIAS and EES, the airline companies will now also be responsible for checking the status of a passenger’s ETIAS authorisation and EES status.
Passengers’ information and details will be checked online against the ETIAS Central Unit’s database and EES records with permission or refusal to travel expected within moments. However, this may not always be the case particularly in the early days of ETIAS. The ETIAS/EES details provided to the Departure Control System (DCS) at the airport of departure must be processed through a new protocol to be known as iAPI or Interactive Advanced Passenger Information. This protocol is still at an early stage of development and a number of airports do not, as yet, have the capability to connect to the system. Once the iAPI system is up and running (and any computer bugs sorted) it should be possible for the airline officials to get instant acceptance or denial at the time of check-in.
On the Buses
Implementing ETIAS and EES on long-distance and cross-border coaches presents a real headache for international law enforcement and border security agencies. As passengers can board and leave a tour bus or coach at numerous points it is almost impossible to police the situation although ETIAS national authorities are working on the problem and it is envisaged that coach operators will have their own system in place within three years of the introduction of ETIAS. For the present, coach operators will not be responsible for checking the ETIAS and EES status of passengers although the drivers and staff have the right to do so and the ability to check a passenger’s details.
As has always been the case, the onus when travelling is on the passenger. A valid passport with ETIAS approval is mandatory and it may also be necessary to carry documentation regarding itinerary plans and accommodation. At the airport or port of departure the carrier will verify the passport and ETIAS by checking the data through the ETIAS and EES database. This is a combined query and the response is also a combined reply from both agencies. The answer, which should be immediate, will be either permission to proceed or a refusal to travel. It should be remembered, however, that although a valid ETIAS is necessary for European travel it is not an automatic guarantee of entry as the final decision rests with the border security of the country being visited.
Penalties for carriers
Carriers will be subject to penalties if they transport travellers to Schengen member countries without checking each traveller for an approved ETIAS. To facilitate the monitoring of carrier adherence to the ETIAS rules and regulations, eu-LISA will retain logs of carrier handling of passenger checks and transportation records for a period of two years. If a carrier was found to have transported an ETIAS eligible traveller that did not obtain an approved ETIAS and was later refused entry into the E.E., then the carrier would be responsible for transporting the refused traveller outside of the E.U. There are exceptions to these penalties if for instance, the ETIAS system was under maintenance for an extended period and the carrier was not able to check the traveller for an approved ETIAS before departure.