Rocked by recent terrorist attacks and under stress from a huge refugee crisis, the E.U. Commission has responded by proposing new security measures which will affect many people who have previously not had to bother with getting a visa to visit Europe.
This major change, which is still in the final stages of being formulated, is the introduction of a compulsory electronic authorisation which will need to be obtained before non-European visitors enter any of the Schengen countries in Europe.
The ETIAS Europe visa waiver
The electronic authorization is called the E.U. Travel Information and Authorisation System or ETIAS, for short. In some ways, it is similar to the U.S. ESTA system, although there are also significant differences. The E.U. Commission is hoping that the introduction and implementation of the ETIAS EU visa waiver will mean that Europe becomes more secure. Most intending visitors will be screened and information about them will be obtained and shared amongst the member nations.
Three categories of visitor to the E.U.
Up to now, there have been three different categories of visitors to the E.U. The first category is those European citizens who belong to one of the 26 Schengen zone countries, or one of the few E.U. member countries that are not in Schengen, such as Britain and Ireland. These people have free movement and are able to live, work and travel anywhere within the zone.
The second category includes those people who are not citizens of the E.U. or Schengen, but are considered belonging to a ‘less risky’ country. These people do not normally need a visa on arrival in the E.U. On arrival at any E.U. border post, they are given 90 days in any period of 180 days and can then travel freely throughout the Schengen zone. Theoretically, their passports are supposed to be checked as they cross national borders so that the maximum period is not breached. In practice, many borders are very lax, so that it has been common for visitors in this ‘non-visa’ category to overstay.
It is the people in this second category who are going to be most affected by the ETIAS Europe visa waiver introduction as they will soon have to apply online for authorisation before arriving at a E.U. border control. At present, the only check is at the border itself and the information obtained is quite minimal.
The third category includes all other people who need to apply for visas to enter Europe in advance. This group is surprisingly small as the E.U. has been allowing more and more nationals of non-European countries to enter Europe without the need for a visa. This policy is now beginning to change as the result of recent security breaches.
Financial benefits from introducing the ETIAS
Although the main stated purpose of the introduction of the ETIAS Europe visa waiver is to increase security and obtain information that might deter any further terrorist attacks, it has been suggested that the new visa system will have a significant financial benefit for the E.U. The actual cost to visitors of the ETIAS Europe visa waiver has not yet been announced, but the sums can be done and they certainly look good at a time when the E.U. budget has been diminishing.
One possibility is that each ETIAS visa waiver application will cost only €13, about the same as the U.S. ESTA. Because the yearly number of non-European visitors who would have to apply for an ETIAS is as many as 39 million, this would bring in a very welcome €500 a year for the E.U. In fact, the actual fee when the ETIAS arrangements are finalised in November this year may be much higher. €50 has been suggested, which means that the E.U. could raise as much as €2 billion by 2020!
How the ETIAS Europe visa waiver compares to the ESTA
The U.S. ESTA was developed as a result of terrorist threats and attacks on U.S. soil, especially after the Twin Towers disaster in September 2001. It is only designed for a limited number of countries whose citizens are considered ‘lower risk’. In fact, there are around 35 countries whose citizens do not need to apply for a full U.S. visa in advance but must obtain an ESTA, preferably at least 72 hours before they expect to arrive in the U.S.
Applying for the ESTA is a lot quicker and easier than applying for a full visa, To do the latter, the applicant must make a visit to a U.S. consulate or Embassy in one of only a limited number of countries and take part in an interview, The cost of a visa is also much higher than an ESTA, which is only $14.
The ETIAS Europe visa waiver will share many of the features of the ESTA, but because many more people are in the non-visa requiring category, it will mean a huge change in the amount of information that the E.U. acquires about visitors to the region – and a huge increase in revenue, too.