ETIAS stands for the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. It was announced by the European Commission in November 2016 and was implemented into legislation in September 2018. The intention of forming the system was to improve the security of EU member states within the Schengen region by capturing data on travellers that currently visit the area without a visa.
The ETIAS will pre-screen travellers from "third-countries", who are citizens from countries not needing a Schengen Visa. The screening would pertain to terrorism or migration related risks. The objective is to identify individuals who pose security threats before they are able to travel to the Schengen area.
ETIAS is not a visa, it is a visa waiver, similar to the U.S. ESTA and Canadian eTA. Travelers currently visiting European Member countries visa-free, will require an ETIAS in 2024 onwards. Passport holders of the EU single market are exempt from ETIAS.
Convenience – Reduce border wait-times for travellers and streamline entry into EU member states.
Border efficiency - Improve border management for security personnel screening travellers upon arrival and departure from EU member states.
Transparency - Help the EU toward achieving its goal of a visa liberalisation policy that would enable citizens of more countries to enter the EU without the need of a Schengen Visa.
Immigration - Enable border authorities to spot migration irregularities and abuse of visa-free EU travel.
Security – Help EU member states strengthen their border security processes and procedures against crime and terrorism.
Funding – Provide an additional source of revenue for the EU budget as well as for managing visa-free travel of business, tourism and transit visitors.
Rationale for ETIAS
Currently, a large number of individuals, from countries such as the United States and Canada, who wish to travel to Europe do not need to apply for a visa prior to their arrival. The European Commission, the body that makes the rules for the 27 member European Union have devised a scheme that will mean these citizens (e.g. United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) will need to provide information about themselves and the reason for their travel arrangements via an online application before arriving in Europe. The list of ETIAS eligible countries is frequent to change. Thus, travellers are advised to become familiar with the requirements prior to their departure to an EU country.
The E.U. Commission has proposed the new pre-travel authorisation system because of changes in the numbers of visitors coming to Europe and the reasons why they go there. It is hoped that the system will deter potential criminals and terrorists as well as monitor all those who intend visiting to provide a greater level of security for Europe’s residents.
- There are four principal reasons behind the introduction of ETIAS:
- There are many more people visiting Europe, with around 50 million individual visitors last year and over 200 million entries.
- The number of refugees and people seeking asylum for a variety of reasons, including persecution, war, economic benefits etc., has risen sharply in recent years.
- Terrorist incidents have become more frequent and this has had a disturbing and unsettling effect on Europe’s citizens. Countries that have recently been affected are France, Belgium, Germany and Spain.
- Advances in electronic communication technology as well as the use of the Internet by travellers world-wide has made an electronic form of pre-travel authorisation a realistic and practical way of obtaining the sort of information that would prove useful to Europe’s collective border authorities and security personnel.
What countries are in the Schengen Area?
There are three different country categories, or groupings, of the European Schengen area. The 26 Schengen countries are essentially the same as the 27 countries in the European Union itself, but there are few that are in Schengen and not in the E.U. and vice versa. The Schengen countries have uniform immigration rules and freedom of movement for each other’s nationals.
The first of the three groups are E.U. and Schengen nationals. These people are free to visit, live and work in each other’s countries, so there are no restrictions.
In the second group are nationals of a large number of non-European countries. They do not need a visa to visit Europe, but there are restrictions on how long they can stay and what they can do there, particularly if they want to study, work or live or longer than 3 months at any one time. It is this group that will be affected by the ETIAS. Americans, Canadians, Australians, Japanese, Malaysians and many others are in this group. This group is likely to be the one that will require the ETIAS visa waiver.
The third group consists of nationals of non-European countries that need visas before they go to Europe. Most of the people in this group are nationals of poorer third world countries or those that have less strong links culturally and economically with the E.U.
Similarities With Other Electronic Authorisation Systems
Several other countries have already introduced electronic authorisation systems which are applied for online and issued before travel commences.
Australia introduced its own eVisitor and electronic travel authority, or eTA, in 1996. This was principally to speed up visa processing for the large number of tourists who wish to visit Australia.
The U.S. introduced an automatic electronic system for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) in 2007 for certain passport holders. This is a visa-waiver system for nationals of countries regarded as of relatively low risk to U.S. security.
Canada is the most recent country to introduce a similar system as the U.S. called the eTA.
ETIAS is only relevant to travellers who travel visa-free to EU member states. The application process is aimed at taking approximately 10 minutes or less. The website processing ETIAS applications will support mobile, desktop and mobile devices. The types of information requested includes:
- Biometric and personal data such as name, date of birth and gender
- Applicant contact details such as home address email address
- Education history, such as primary, secondary, vocational schooling, university, or no education
- Travel document information, such as a passport or other document, including data such as the document number, issue date, expiry date, and country
- Current occupation or job, including title as well as contact details
- First EU member state of arrival
- Background questions relating to previous criminal activity, drug use, travel to conflict zones, as well as EU and non-EU immigration history.
Third parties may apply on behalf of applicants, yet this must be disclosed at the time of submitting the application. Third parties will also need to provide their name and company information, where relevant, as well as their contact details and relationship to the applicant. More information on the ETIAS application form can be found here: https://etias.com/articles/what-will-be-on-the-etias-application-form
The ETIAS fee charged on applications for travellers between the ages of 18 and 70 is €7. There is no ETIAS fee for travellers under the age of 18, or over the age of 70. Every traveller, regardless of their age, will require an approved ETIAS prior to their arrival to the Schengen Area.
An ETIAS application is automatically processed based on the following three factors:
- Identity – Does the applicant’s identity match their passport?
- Travel document – Do the travel document details match the information provided by the applicant in other sections? Is it a valid travel document issued by an ETIAS eligible country?
- Background questions – Do the answers match the data held in the databases checked by the ETIAS Central Unit?
The applicant identify, travel document and background questions are then checked against Schengen Information System (SIS), Visa Information System (VIS), EUROPOL DATA, Interpol Stolen and Lost Travel Document database (SLTD) and the Interpol Travel Documents Associated with Notices database (TDAWN), EURODAC and others, in addition to the ETIAS Central Unit’s own screening rules and watchlist. A positive match detected by the automated processing system that deems the applicant as a possible security or migration risk, it will result in the ETIAS application being manually processed. Manual processing is performed by the ETIAS Central Unit and ETIAS National Units where relevant. If additional information is required from the applicant, they will be contacted within days of receiving notification that their ETIAS requires additional processing. The ETIAS system will provide all applicants notification of their “approved”, “refused” or “manual processing” ETIAS status within 96 hours of application submission.
Most ETIAS applicants will be notified either instantly or within a few hours of their approved authorisation. A valid ETIAS travel authorisation is linked to the applicant’s passport and have its own unique application number. An ETIAS will be valid for three years or until the date of passport or travel document expiry, whichever date comes first.
ETIAS Manual Processing
An application will be manually processed if the traveller’s data matches a hit in one of the EU databases. The applicant may contacted by the ETIAS Central Unit or ETIAS National Teams to provide additional documentation to process the application. Furthermore, the applicant may also be given the option to attend an interview at a nearby EU member state consulate if the documentation alone is not sufficient to process the applications.
Applicants who are denied an ETIAS will receive reasons of their refusal. This will include information on the particular EU member state that decided on the application.
Applicants who have been denied an ETIAS have the right to appeal. Appeals will need to be submitted to the EU member state that refused the ETIAS. The processing of appeals will also take place in this same EU member state.
ETIAS at the airport
Travellers arriving to the Schengen area by air, land or sea will be required to present a valid travel authorization. Using an Entry-Exit System (EES) check, EU border authorities will check a traveller’s passport, visa or ETIAS to determine admissibility. Traveller’s without a passport from an EU member state, a valid ETIAS or a valid Schengen visa will not be allowed entry.
ETIAS Revocations and Annulments
An approved ETIAS does not guarantee entry into an EU member state. Admissibility is determined by EU border officials. Furthermore, an approved ETIAS can be revoked if the traveller was deemed to have obtained using fraud or deception. ETIAS applications will also be revoked as new alerts are received in the EU’s security databases due to a traveller being refused entry, or reports of lost or stolen travel documents. Each member state, through its relevant ETIAS National Unit, are responsible for revoking approved ETIAS authorisations if an alert matches a traveller’s authorisation.
Similarly, an ETIAS can be annulled if an ETIAS applicant’s circumstances change in regards to their eligibility, such as a recent criminal conviction, terrorist activity, or travel to conflict areas. An ETIAS will also be annulled in the case of passport expiry, or name change of a traveller.
The structure of the ETIAS system is comprised of seven core components, each of which has their own systems and teams in place to facilitate the processing of ETIAS applications and the management of the system and related processes.
ETIAS Central Unit
The ETIAS Central Unit is under the management of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. Maintains records of current application data as well as ensures its accuracy. Also validates applications where there is a against one of the databases used to screen travellers. Responsible for defining, evaluating, testing and reviewing ETIAS screening rules and their risks, alongside the ETIAS Screening Board. Responsible for conducting audits of ETIAS application management and adherence to ETIAS screening rules with considerations of applicant privacy and data protection.
ETIAS National Units
Each EU member state is a part of the ETIAS National Units. The ETIAS National Units will assess and decide on applications where the ETIAS Central Unit is unable to automatically process an ETIAS application. The ETIAS National Units will need to provide reasons for authorising or denying applications. Also, the ETIAS National Units can provide opinions and share information amongst member states via their national unit.
European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol)
Europol is an EU law enforcement agency that deals with organised crime and terrorism amongst EU member states. Europol is responsible for managing the ETIAS watchlist, in cooperation with the ETIAS National Units. In the instances where an ETIAS applicant’s data matches Europol data during the automated processing stage, the ETIAS National Units will act to assist on determining if the application should be approved, denied, or require additional documentation from the applicant.
European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (eu-LISA)
The eu-LISA is an agency that operates large-scale IT systems for the EU. eu-LISTA is responsible for the technical design, development and management of the ETIAS. This entity will also be responsible for maintaining the privacy and security of all applicant data submitted through the digital information systems of the ETIAS.
ETIAS Screening Board
The ETIAS Screening Board is a collection of representatives from the ETIAS National Units, European Border and Coast Guard Agency and Europol. They decide on the risk indicators to manage the ETIAS watchlist, as well as the management of criteria used for defining, evaluating and revising the risk indicators.
European Border and Coast Guard Agency
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency is an EU agency, that is responsible for the border control of the Schengen Area, with the help of border authorities in each individual member state. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency will manage the ETIAS Central Unit. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, alongside the eu-LISA, are the primary overseers of the ETIAS.
ETIAS Fundamental Rights Guidance Board
Members of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the European Data Protection Supervisor, and the Fundamental Rights Agency form an independent advisory committee for the purposes of ensuring applications are processed efficiently, fairly, and securely. Their recommendations are then passed onto the ETIAS Screening Board for possible implementation in a future ETIAS update.