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What is ETIAS and what will change for you when traveling to Europe?

When travelling to the European Union (EU), a person that is not a national of an EU Member State will have to obtain a Schengen Visa unless they benefit from visa free travel. Visa Exemption Agreements allow citizens from a particular third country to enter the EU and to travel to different Schengen countries without a visa for a maximum period of three months during a six-month period. The Visa Exemption Agreements are directly linked to the Schengen Area. They are open to all the citizens of a third country benefiting of such an agreement, traveling to the EU for any reason except to work or study. There are currently 61 countries benefitting from such an agreement.

The implementation of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will not change anything for travelers who need to apply for a Schengen visa, they will not need to apply for an ETIAS in addition to their visa, but it will have consequences for travelers currently benefitting from visa-free travel. Additionally, ETIAS will allow people to enter the Schengen area for medical and transit purposes. The ETIAS legislation will apply to EU Member States part of the Schengen area, as well as to Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania.

ETIAS is a new IT system that will strengthen the EU's capacity to assess and manage the potential migration and security risks represented by citizens benefiting from a Visa Exemption Agreement (visa-free travel) as it increases mandatory checks on third country nationals entering the EU. Currently, the EU has little information about travelers entering the EU on a visa-free regime and therefore, ETIAS is helping to close this knowledge gap. This new system will assist in detecting potential criminals and terrorists, improve the management of EU border and hinder irregular migration. Besides addressing security concerns, ETIAS will also reduce procedures and waiting time at EU ports of entry. ETIAS will enter into force in 2021.

ETIAS is not a visa, it is a travel authorization. This travel authorization system will collect, record, and revise essential information about travelers to establish whether it is secure for them to enter Schengen countries. ETIAS is similar to the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). However, it is not possible to enter the Schengen area with an ESTA and it is not possible to enter the US with an ETIAS.

The procedure to obtain an ETIAS is easy and should not take more than 10 minutes to complete. It is entirely done online, and each application will cost 7€ for adults between 18 and 70 years old. Getting an ETIAS for those under 18 and over 70 is free. Once the payment is made, the information entered by the potential traveler will be checked across several databases:

· The Schengen Information System (SIS), which is the most widely used and largest information sharing system for security and border management in Europe. SIS allows national authorities, such as the police and border guards, to see whether a third country national has previously been refused entry into the Schengen area.

· The Visa Information System (VIS), which is an instrument to exchange data for short-stay visa applications between the Schengen EU Member States and the four Schengen Associate countries.

· The European Criminal Records Information Exchange System created in 2012 to facilitate the exchange of information on criminal records throughout the EU.

· EURODAC, which establishes an EU asylum fingerprint database and can also be used to monitor third country nationals apprehended when attempting to cross an external border irregularly.

· Other police databases such as the EUROPOL information system and the Stolen and Lost Travel Database (Interpol).

After checking the traveler’s information against the different databases, the system will either accept or refuse the application. It is estimated that over 95% of the applications will be granted but if an irregularity is noticed then the application will be refused. If approved, the ETIAS is valid for a period of three years or until the passport used in the application expires, if it expires before the three years are over. The ETIAS can be revoked if it is discovered that the person gave false information during the application process or when a traveler does not comply anymore with the set criteria.

Finally, several points are worth noting. If the traveler plans to visit more than one Schengen country during his stay, he will need to enter the Schengen area through the country he indicated in his application. For example, if someone wants to travel to Greece, Italy and France and he indicates in his ETIAS that he will enter through Italy, he cannot first fly to Paris. It should also be noted that it is not because the traveler has a valid ETIAS that he will automatically be allowed to enter an EU Member State as the border authorities retain the competence for taking this decision.

Author: Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser

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