What will be the ETIAS screening rules?

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What will be the ETIAS screening rules?

ETIAS Screening Process

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System is a work in progress with alterations and additions being made on a regular basis. The system is designed to be a screening process for “third country” nationals (those outside the European Union) who currently enjoy visa-free travel to, from and within the greater European zone.

Although the existing national border management and law enforcement databases contain some details regarding non-EU passport holders and those who require visas entering Europe, there is a distinct lack of detailed information available about these visitors and ETIAS is Europe’s way of addressing this serious shortcoming.

Rather than each European country operating its own visa system, which would be cumbersome and probably ineffective, ETIAS will gather data about intending non-EU travellers by means of the information contained on each ETIAS application form. This information will be stored in the ETIAS Central Unit which will be operated by Frontex; the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. The stored data will then be used to either grant or refuse ETIAS approval. The applicant’s personal details contained in the form are screened using computer algorithms, and approval automatically granted in the vast majority of cases.

ETIAS Screening Board

The precise rules of the screening process have yet to be finalised and will be discussed in detail and fine-tuned in the period leading up to the introduction of ETIAS. To this end a Screening Board will be established which will draft a set of rules and regulations governing the conditions required for ETIAS approval.

The Screening Board will consist of representatives from each of the ETIAS National Units and from Europol (European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) and will fall under the remit of Frontex who will also be represented. The board will have an advisory function and is to be consulted on the evaluation of possible terrorist, criminal and health threats to Europe as well as the implementation of an ETIAS Watchlist which is currently being compiled.

Currently, visa-exempt visitors to Europe are subject to examination or questioning by border control authorities but these authorities have very little information to work with. Once all documentation is in order and no security alert exists regarding the traveller there is very little reason for refusing entry or knowing if the passport holder poses a criminal, terrorist or health risk. This situation will change with the introduction of ETIAS where every detail in an application will be checked and verified before permission to travel is granted. This, it is envisaged, will significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the possibility of undesirable persons even entering Europe let alone travelling unhindered within its confines.

ETIAS risk factors used for screening travellers

The risk factors used to screen travellers will be based on the following data points:

  • Entry/Exit System (EES) data on travellers with abnormal rates of overstaying or refusals at the border of member states.
  • ETIAS data on travellers that have a high number of refusals due to security, illegal immigration of other health related risks.
  • Correlations between ETIAS and EES data on refusals and overstayers.
  • EU member state data on overstayers, refusals and other risks posed by specific groups of travellers.
  • World Health Organization (WHO) or the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) data on disease outbreaks and other epidemiological information to identify health-related risks of affected countries.

Other risk factors used by the ETIAS will include an applicant's age range, sex, nationality, country and city of residence or birth, level of education achievement, as well as current employer or occupation. The ETIAS will strive to not incorporate risk factors based solely on a person's age or sex. Furthermore, factors regarding a person's identity, such as their appearance, language, race, colour of skin, political or religious beliefs, disability, or sexual orientation will be used to develop or assess risk factors.

ETIAS risk factors will be continually reviewed and assessed, usually every six months, or less where necessary. 

ETIAS screening approach

Although the Screening Board is still formulating and drafting regulations regarding requirements for ETIAS approval and reasons for refusal it is expected these will be similar to those already in operation in the USA, Canada and Australia.

  • The American ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) requires applicants to provide extensive biographical information including name and address, date and place of birth and current employment or study details. Intending visitors must also provide a travel itinerary and a point of contact in the United States.
  • Applicants for the Australian ETA (electronic travel authority) must also provide the standard personal information and must not have any criminal convictions which total a sentence of twelve months or more. Applicants must also be free of tuberculosis.
  • Canada’s eTA (electronic travel authorisation) application process focuses on personal data, travel and contact details and also includes a series of background questions. These questions are designed to assess criminal, terrorist or health risks the applicant may pose or possible immigration concerns.

ETIAS Screening Rules can be expected to closely follow the ESTA, ETA and eTA models and will include health issues, criminal records and (possible) connections to terrorist activity or organisations. It is also almost certain that the rules will include details of any previous refusals of entry to a country and deportation orders.

No guarantee of entry

It is estimated that about 95% of all ETIAS applications will be automatically approved and this should be the case unless the information provided is false or inaccurate or the applicant is flagged on the ETIAS Watchlist or in the Central Unit database. However, possession of a valid ETIAS (although mandatory) is no guarantee of automatic admission to the European or Schengen country or countries being visited. The decision to allow entry rests ultimately with the border security services who have the power to refuse admission under the rules of the Schengen Borders Code.