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02/12/2016

EU plans online screening for visa-free visitors from outside EU

Justice & Home Affairs

EU plans online screening for visa-free visitors from outside EU

Online registration

Millions of tourists and businesspersons who normally visit the EU’s borderless Schengen area will have to complete a €5 online security check before arrival if an EU plan to tighten controls on foreigners who do not need visas wins approval.

The system, which the European Commission approved today (16 November), would check visitors’ identity documents and residence details against a variety of EU security and crime databases.

Non-EU citizens will pay to enter Schengen area under future ETIAS scheme

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As an example, those who may be rejected are visitors sought by Europol, or who have committed offences registered in EU databases, or who have overstayed in the past on EU territory.

Known as ETIAS and similar to the US ESTA system, within minutes, the system would give most visitors a five-year clearance for multiple trips. EU officials hope it could be up and running after legislative approval by early next decade.

Following Islamic State attacks in France and Belgium, and the chaotic mass arrival of migrants and refugees in Greece, the executive hopes the screening system can close loopholes at its borders for violent militants, criminals and would-be illegal immigrants.

The ETIAS screening would affect citizens of an estimated 60 countries who can visit Europe’s Schengen area for short trips without first applying for a visa, including Americans, Japanese or Canadians.

The screening will not apply to EU citizens, even if their country is not a member of Schengen, but will certainly apply to UK nationals after Brexit, it became clear, after journalists questioned Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Interior Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday.

Timmermans said that this was the first deliverable following the so-called “Bratislava roadmap” agreed to during a summit in the Slovak capital on 16 September.

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The proposal still needs the approval of the Council and the European Parliament. The technical implementation will also take time, and it is expected that ETIAS will become operational in three years’ time.

The scheme, to be sent for approval to governments and the European Parliament, is intended to be self-financing through the application fee. The Commission estimates its setup costs at around €200 million and annual running costs at €85 million.

It would also address European concerns over plans to expand visa-free travel in the coming years to two big neighbours, Turkey and Ukraine, and would apply immediately to people from non-EU states in the Balkans such as Albania and Serbia.

The American ESTA security review grants travel clearance for two years, and costs $14, while Canada’s similar eTA check, valid for five years, costs 7 Canadian dollars ($5.21). Japan does not charge a fee for visitors from visa-waiver countries.

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