The Rationale For A European Visa Waiver and Electronic Travel Authorisation System

Border Patrol 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 28 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 online via an application portal before arriving in Europe. For a full list of these countries, please visit this page.

The Commission has proposed a European Travel and Information Authorisation System, or ETIAS for short, which essentially will be a European visa waiver. The ETIAS will have similarities to systems already in place in the U.S., Canada and Australia and is designed to fulfil similar objectives. You can learn more about ETIAS in the following sections:

Three Categories of Visitor to the E.U. and Schengen Zone

There are three different country categories, or groupings, of the European Schengen zone. The Schengen countries are basically the same as the countries in the European Union itself, but there are some that are in Schengen and not in the E.U. and vice versa. It’s a bit confusing for non-Europeans, but basically 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 arrangements. 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.

Rationale for ETIAS

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.

  1. There are four principal reasons behind the introduction of ETIAS:
  2. There are many more people visiting Europe, with around 50 million individual visitors last year and over 200 million entries.
  3. The number of refugees and people seeking asylum for a variety of reasons, including persecution, war, economic benefits etc., has risen sharply in the last few years.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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.

What the Europeans Will Do With Information From ETIAS

The Commission recognises that the information obtained from the ETIAS applications will not in itself replace any security process being devised for use at Schengen external borders called ‘Smart Borders’. However, it does consider the ETIAS to be an opportunity to screen visa exempt visitors before they arrive at a border control point. It is hoped that this should pre-empt criminal or terrorist activity to a greater degree. Information will be shared amongst all Schengen border, police and security authorities.

At present, the only information that can be obtained is actually at the border itself. Nationals of the visa-exempt countries who will be affected by the introduction of the ETIAS will still have to comply with border restrictions. They only have a limited time within the Schengen zone. Also, these visitors will need a valid reason for their visit, have valid travel documents and show evidence that they have sufficient funds for their stay.

As for visa obliged nationals, information about them and their reason for visiting Europe is already obtained through the visa application process which must take place outside Europe. ETIAS will not directly affect this group of visitors.

The ETIAS will be rolled out in 2021 and is currently under development. For information on the full proposal please visit: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-security/legislative-documents/docs/20161116/proposal_etias_en.pdf