Sunday

21st Jan 2018

EU proposes tighter border control bill

People travelling into Europe who overstay their visa, even for legitimate reasons such as unforeseen hospital stays or transport delays, could face automatic sanctions and fines, under new rules unveiled on Thursday (28 February).

The proposal is part of a larger "smart borders" package presented by the European Commission designed to make foreign travel into the Union’s borderless zone easier, increase border security and prevent irregular migration.

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  • The European Commission says around 700 million people will arrive in Europe by air by 2030 (Photo: shugfy)

“There are of course legitimate reasons for an overstay and it is not for me or the commission to judge about that. The system will give an alert to the Dutch or the Slovene or the Polish authorities and then it will be up to them to follow up,” EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels.

EU sources say the person will need to inform national authorities in advance in case of an unforeseen visa-breach.

They can also make their case directly to border guards at any one of the EU's 1,800 external border crossing points.

Each member state will determine the amount of the fine or the severity of the sanction.

German Green MEP Ska Keller told this website that the commission’s proposal focuses on irregular migrants as overstayers and neglects those who may have legitimate reasons.

“It does not at all take into account the different circumstances, we just might have another Iceland volcano and a lot of people will be overstaying involuntarily,” said Keller.

Malmstrom’s system is a centralised database that will be designed and managed by the Strasbourg-based agency for large-scale IT systems, EU-Lisa, to the tune of €1.1 billion. The system should be up and running by 2018 at the latest.

Some experts believe the real amount will be far greater.

The database will hold the same personal details and visa information as passports, such as names, type and number of travel documents, and date and time of entry.

Once launched, the database will three years later register biometric data like fingerprints. The three-year delay is to give all member states sufficient time to install systems to process fingerprints.

Access is, for the moment, limited to border control and immigration purposes to prevent irregular migration.

But Mathias Vermeulen, a research fellow at the European University Institute in Italy, who drafted a 2012 report on EU border surveillance with the London-based civil liberties group Statewatch, noted that most irregular migrants do not cross into the EU by legitimate means.

“Most of the people who enter the EU illegally do so without formally crossing any form of border point and without presenting any papers in the first place,” said Vermeulen.

The EU-border patrol agency Frontex may use anonymised data for research purposes.

Access by the EU police agency Europol is off-limits but the commission said it plans on revising the limitation in the future.

“Access for other purposes like fighting crime at this time is excluded but we will come back to that at a later date,” said an EU source.

The package

The "smart borders" package includes two proposals.

People who make frequent trips to the EU, for business, research, or pleasure will have an option to voluntarily sign up to a registered travellers programme (RTP).

The RTP gives the traveller a token that will allow him or her to walk through automatic gates with less hold up. The system removes the border control agent and his or her passport will no longer be stamped.

To sign up, an individual will need to apply, as usual, for a multiple-entry visa at the member state consulate in his or her home country. He may also, at the same time, request an RTP for a €20 fee.

If accepted, he will need to hand over the standard ID checks and documents as well as four fingerprints. The consulate administrator then feeds the data into the Strasbourg database. The RTP token is valid for five years.

When the person arrives at an automatic gate at an EU-based airport, he will need to swipe his passport, scan his visa, his token and his fingertips. If everything checks out, the gates open.

EU sources say they expect up to 5 million RTP applications per year.

The second proposal is the entry-exit system (EES) regulation.

Anyone who does not opt for the RTP procedure will be processed under the EES.

Unlike the RTP, the EES requires 10 fingerprints to ensure they give positive hits years later should the individual decide to never leave the Union.

The data is stored up to six months in ordinary cases and up to five years for overstayers.

“All non-EU travellers would be effectively treated as suspected criminals, with their fingerprints to be collected not just every time they enter and exit the EU, but also when they cross identity controls by police within the EU,” said Keller.

Investigation

Fortress Europe: a Greek wall close up

A 12.5km fence rolled with barbwire along the Greek Turkish border is part of a larger initiative to secure Europe from migrants seeking a better life.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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