The European Union’s Etias visa-waiver programme – which will see visitors from third countries such as the UK – pay a €7 application fee before entering the bloc, has been delayed until 2024.
Planned to commence in late 2022, it was delayed until May and then November 2023. The scheme’s application site now says that it will be “starting from 2024”, although no month is detailed for its launch.
When operational, Etias will apply to visitors in these 30 European countries:
- Czech Republic (Czechia)
Since Brexit, the UK is one of more than 60 countries – along with Albania, the US and New Zealand – whose passport holders will require an Etias to enter 30 European countries, costing €7 for those aged 18-70 (people aged under 18 or over 70 will still need to apply but will not have to pay the fee). Etias will be valid for three years, or until the holder’s passport expires, whichever comes sooner.
The European Commission says that applicants will receive a positive answer to their online application within a few minutes, but that around five per cent will require further checks by the Etias central unit.
Etias is intended be part of a smart-border solution for travel into the bloc, but with around 1.4 billion people required to use it, there are concerns that it will significantly delay border checks.
The first phase of its implementation is the EES (Entry-Exit System), which will require third-country nationals to register each time they cross an external EU border. In practice, this means visitors will need to scan their passport and register biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) on arrival. It was first scheduled to take effect in 2022, but was delayed until May 2023 and again until at least November 2023.
It is likely that arrivals will have their fingerprints and facial images taken the first time they cross an EU border, which will be stored for three years.
However, there has been pushback from several member nations. Research by EU civil liberties group Statewatch found that Austria expects “process times to double compared to the current situation”, with Germany estimating that “control times for passengers will increase significantly by the introduction of EES.”
The EES system will operate at the Port of Dover and Eurostar and Eurotunnel terminals in the UK under reciprocal border check agreements with France. Operators here have also expressed concerns about the impact of EES and its potential to increase delays at border checkpoints, as seen at Dover and Folkestone last summer.
John Keefe, head of Public Affairs for Eurotunnel told a Home Affairs Committee that processing up to 1,700 people per hour during peak travel times would be “an impossible task in the space that we have available.”
Similar concerns were expressed about St Pancras International, where Eurostar departs for Europe and it is estimated around 30 kiosks would be required to handle the volume of registrations.