30th Nov 2021

EU's entry-exit system for travellers hit with delays

  • The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias) promises to ease visa-free travel into the EU (Photo: Nelson L.)
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The EU wants a new entry-exit system for screening travellers, known as Etias, up and running before the end of next year. The aim is to carry out pre-travel screening for security and migration risks of visa-exempt visitors.

But promises of extra security appear to be running into trouble amid a slew of delays, according to an internal EU document dated 20 October and drafted by the EU's police agency Europol. The agency also cites a number of "major risks".

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Their plan is to automate cross-checking of travel application data against Europol data. Aside from running into "complex legal questions" on data access, the Hague-based agency has also been hit with recruitment delays.

It says it needs at least 48 extra operational staff to process hits against Europol data.

Recruitment should have already started so that new staff could start in the second half of 2022. Most would be required to manually process European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias) hits against Europol data.

But Europol says that "no clarity on the allocation of additional resources to ensure the operation of Etias-related processes have been achieved yet."

As for the major issues, the document says differing data-sharing standards are posing difficulties. It says non-EU participating states like Iceland and Norway may have stricter regimes than EU member states.

"Europol can share the information, including personal data, but the process may be delayed or blocked," it said. As for the major risks, they involve EU plans to make data platforms and systems interoperable.

But Europol says there are too many parallel projects on interoperability, noting overlapping staff and lack of coordination. Such parallel projects "make it extremely challenging to achieve political deadlines," it noted.

It blames other delays linked to Covid-19, the business end, scalability of infrastructure, lack of interoperability and an "uncertainty about the future workload."

Frontex, the EU's border agency, will host its central unit with a network system vis-a-vis national authorities.

The Warsaw-based agency will be tasked to manually deal with authorisations that cannot be automatically treated after having been cross-checked by various security databases.

"That is something that will revolutionise border guard work," said the head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, earlier this year.

"It will be necessary that our own Frontex agents category one have total access to all databases of the European Union," he added.

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