EU plans online screening for visa-free travellers

The European Commission proposes a plan under which millions of foreign tourists and business people who do not need visas will have to complete a five euro online security check to be allowed to enter the EU.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (NOVEMBER 16, 2016) (EBS) – The European Commission put forward on Wednesday (November 16) a new proposal under which millions of foreign tourists and business people who do not need visas to visit the EU will have to complete a five euro online security check before arriving to the bloc.

The system would check identity documents and residence details against a variety of EU security and crime databases.

Following Islamic State attacks in France and Belgium and the chaotic mass arrival of migrants and refugees in Greece, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the screening would close loopholes at its borders for violent militants, criminals and would-be illegal immigrants.

“It’s about protecting our international, external borders and internal security and to make sure that we can effectively spot visa-exempt travellers with risks of irregular migration, security and all for public health,” Timmermans said.

Named ETIAS, for European Travel Information and Authorisation System, it would also address European concerns over plans to expand visa-free travel 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.

Similar to the U.S. ESTA system, it would affect citizens of around 60 countries who can visit Europe’s Schengen area for short trips without first applying for a visa, including Americans, Japanese and – depending on what arrangements London negotiates for leaving the EU – potentially Britons too.

Timmermans said the system that an effective and cheap alternative to actual visas.

“It’s good for security and good for a smoother travel experience once at the external border because ETIAS is not a visa. Traveller from visa-exempt third countries can do it at home online. It will be cheap, five euros, easy and last for five years. It will be easy, quick, cheap and effective is our belief,” Timmermans said.

The aim is to give most of people, within minutes of going online, clearance for any number of trips over five years, though it could be cancelled at any time if there is cause for concern, Timmermans said.

“If one’s behaviour gives rise to alarm, the ETIAS authorization can be revoked at any time in that five year period. This system is good for authorities and good for traveller. By closing the loop, we protect ourselves and safeguard our visa liberalisation policy. Moreover, ETIAS will be fully based on the newest data protection rules and therefore will satisfy the highest safeguards,” the Dutchman said.

The scheme now needs approval from governments and the European Parliament. It is intended to be self-financing through the application fee. The Commission estimates set-up costs at around 200 million euros and annual running costs at 85 million.

EU officials hope it could be up and running after legislative approval by early next decade.

The U.S. ESTA, valid for two years, costs $14, while Canada’s similar eTA, valid for five years, costs C$7.