In July of last year the EU announced it was developing a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) which would require non-European travelers to receive authorization from the European Union before traveling in Schengen Area come 2021. Initially this caused concern and confusion for countries that had been previously granted via-free travel in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Israel. However, if you are from one of these countries and enjoy visa-free travel in any of the Schengen area’s 26 countries, you need not worry. The EU’s new ETIAS program is not a visa program.
So, what is the ETIAS and what does it mean for visa-free travelers in the Schengen Area?
To start let us first clarify the area of debate. The Schengen Area created in 1985, is a collection of twenty-six European countries including: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The internal borders within this zone have been softened allowing for citizens of member states to travel freely. It is important to note that while the Schengen area is governed by the European Union not all of its members are part of the EU, such as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein; and not all EU members are part of the Schengen area, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland. Nonetheless, the Schengen area is the world’s largest visa-free zone and despite recent speculation will remain so indefinitely.
The ETIAS, as previously stated, is not a visa-program, but rather a preliminary security screening program much like the ESTA in the United States and the ETA in Canada. Travelers who are part of the European Union Annex II countries whose nationals can travel within the Schengen area for ninety days visa-free will be required to complete a ten-minute online application, which requires only valid passport, a credit or debit card (for the €7.00or £6.01 service fee), and an email account. According to the European Commission automatic approval is expected to be given in over 95% of cases. Using the information provided the ETIAS will cross reference European security databases such as Interpol and Europol. Authorization via the ETIAS will last each applicant three years during which they will be able to travel freely in an out of the Schengen area in accordance with the 90-day allowance.
The United Kingdom, however, represents a slightly different case. As it stands, the UK will fall under the same ETIAS requirement as of 2021 like the other countries allowed visa-free travel. However, this rests on the outcome of the Brexit deal. The EU maintains a condition of reciprocity in regard to visa requirements. If the UK continues to allow visa-free travel for Schengen area nationals within its borders the ETIAS plan will continue as prescribed, but if the UK rescinds this privilege, visas will then be required of UK nationals to travel in this area.
The aim of the ETIAS is to fill the information gap that currently exists with non-Schengen visa-free travelers in order to improve the security of the Schengen area’s external borders, as the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, stated, ‘Anyone who poses a migratory or security risk will be identified before they even travel to EU borders.’ Although some have suggested that the ETIAS program is a form of backlash against Brexit, an attempt at making the Schengen area more exclusive, the timing of ETIAS launch is purely coincidental states the ETIAS website.
Ultimately the ETIAS program is nothing for avid explorers, international business, St Andrews students or any other visa-free traveler to worry about. Instead, the ETIAS should be a welcome addition to European security. Just remember to update your authorization every three years and travel on!
Banner Image: Image Courtesy of Mohamed Hassan via pxhere © 2019, public domain