The ultimate key to securing Europe is smart borders - a system of checks and assessments allowing us to know who is entering the EU, from where and if they pose a risk to EU security.
The new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is an essential component of such borders.
MEP Kinga Gál, leading the negotiations on ETIAS on behalf of the European Parliament, made sure that the new system will introduce burdensome-free but thorough checks of visa-free third-country travellers to the EU. Here is how.
ETIAS completes the information picture
Thanks to the Visa Information System, we know who applies for visas to the Schengen area.
The Eurodac fingerprint database enables us to register those who cross external borders irregularly.
However, for all other third-country nationals coming to the EU, there has been an information gap.
Border and law enforcement authorities have almost no information on visa-free travellers, who can pose a risk to the security of our citizens, even before they arrive at EU borders.
That will change with ETIAS.
ETIAS is not a burden on travellers
From 2021, when ETIAS will become fully operational, all visa-free travellers will have to do is fill in an access form online or in a mobile app.
The information provided, such as their name, date and place of birth and address will be checked against other EU security databases.
Applicants for whom no red flag is raised will receive a travel authorisation by email within minutes.
There will be no need to repeat the application for 3 years, the period for which the authorisation remains valid.
ETIAS is based on triple checks
While people with no records in EU information systems will be authorised to visit the EU automatically, for those whose data creates doubts, officers in the ETIAS Central Unit will, in line with data protection rules and on a case-by-case basis, assess whether the hit found is justified and represents a security risk.
It will then be up to ETIAS National Units to ultimately decide if such a person should be allowed to enter their country's territory. Decisions can be appealed and a new application launched.
ETIAS is not a visa
ETIAS does not change current Schengen visa policy.
Citizens from visa-free countries will not be obliged to stand in lines at EU embassies and wait for several weeks for a visa.
They will only be asked to use their laptops or cell phones to register online before they arrive.
In return, with a travel authorisation, they can be more certain that they will not be refused entry at the border.
ETIAS is interconnected with other EU databases
After an application for a travel authorisation is submitted, the ETIAS system will automatically cross-check the data received against a number of EU information systems, including the Schengen Information System and Europol database, as well as Interpol databases and an internal ETIAS watchlist of persons suspected of terrorism and other serious crimes in the Member States and worldwide.
Moreover, to save costs, ETIAS will use the same hardware and software infrastructure as the Entry/Exit System, which will register the data of all non-EU nationals crossing external borders and replace the current system of stamping passports.