More red tape for travellers to Europe: Get ready for Etias and EES

Tourist traffic is now flowing freely through Dover and Folkestone after widespread long delays during the main getaway weekend.

Ministers have blamed the French authorities for failing to deploy more border staff to fulfil the more onerous post-Brexit rules to which the UK asked to be subject.

British passport holders must now have their travel documents inspected and stamped.

The next steps, which are due to be introduced in May 2023, will involve more red tape. The good news: passport stamping will end. The bad news: every traveller must be fingerprinted and provide a facial biometric.

Rather belatedly, the European Union will introduce an “entry exit system” (EES) that will record the movements of non-EU visitors. At the same time, prospective UK visitors to the Schengen area will have to apply online for permission to enter.

The Schengen area comprises most of the 27 remaining members of the European Union (but not Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania) plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and plucky Liechtenstein.

An automated IT system for registering travellers from “third countries”, which means everywhere outside the EU and Schengen area.

Each time the traveller crosses an EU external border the system will register the date and place of entry and exit, plus fingerprints and a facial biometric.

The system, says the European Union “will replace the current system of manual stamping of passports, which is time consuming, does not provide reliable data on border crossings and does not allow a systematic detection of over-stayers”.

British travellers are now restricted to 90 days’ stay in any 180 days, but checks currently depend on checking passport stamps and are haphazard.

Alongside the system, “visa exempt” travellers such as the British will be required to obtain a permit under the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias).

At airports, the US experience suggests the system will work fairly smoothly. But for terrestrial travellers it could be tough.

Tim Reardon, head of EU Exit for the Port of Dover, said: “There is no such thing as an e-gate for a car, and there is no such thing as an e-gate process for people travelling as a group. They’re all one-at-a-time processes.

“There is no way of doing a biometric control without getting everyone out of the vehicle.

“That’s the one thing on our site which cannot happen because you’re in the middle of live traffic. It would be equivalent to asking people to get out of their car at a motorway toll booth. It’s fundamentally unsafe and it can’t happen.”

Gareth Williams, strategy director for Eurostar, which runs trains to France from London, said: “We don’t currently see a practical solution. If we take the peak of August, up to 80 per cent of people will have to go through the system.

“We do have a very extreme space challenge. At a minimum we would require over 30 kiosks, and an area about the size of our entire check in area at St Pancras.”

The rules will not apply to EU citizens.

Officially, no. Europe says that Etias is “a pre-travel authorisation system”. It is a similar concept to the US Esta and Canadian eTA, which are not technically visas.


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