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Biometric Schengen Information System goes live, UK readies ETAs

Biometric Schengen Information System goes live, UK readies ETAs

The European Union’s upgraded Schengen Information System (SIS) for security and border management is now in operation, incorporating biometrics of those registered. Cyprus is preparing to finally join the system while post-Brexit UK is introducing its own Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme.

SIS goes biometric

The system is operational in 30 countries made up of 26 EU Member States and four Schengen countries. SIS links national systems to a central system and works as a network between the systems on counter-terrorism, irregular migration, vulnerable persons as well as boat, aircraft and firearm registration.

“The renewed SIS is the foundation of the most advanced border management system in the world that we are building. Together with the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), SIS will be part of the interoperability architecture,” states the European Commission.

Along with new types of alerts and more data flowing through the new SIS, biometrics have been added to confirm and verify the identities of those in the system.

These include fingerprints, palm prints, “fingermarks and palmmarks” that can be searched through the automated fingerprint identification system in SIS. DNA records will also be included but only for missing persons.

The system does not yet use facial image recognition. The European Commission has to provide a report on the readiness and reliability of facial recognition on which the European Parliament will be consulted.

Only then will it be incorporated into SIS for use at border crossings. “After that, the Commission may adopt delegated acts determining other circumstances in which photographs and facial images may be used to identify persons,” states a Commission summary.

Cyprus to join SIS, looks to joining Schengen

The Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus is expected to join the renewed biometric SIS in the summer, according to the Commission or more specifically from the end of July according to Cypriot media outlet KNews.

“We particularly focused on ways we can improve visa policy for third country citizens or even citizens of specific countries without exempting them from criteria – based visa requirements, and without this creating either immigration risks or risks to the security of Cypriot citizens,” the Cypriot Justice Minister Anna Koukkides-Prokopiou is quoted as saying, further describing the security challenges of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and impact on the region.

Croatia joined Schengen on 1 January and both Bulgaria and Romania are well into the process. Cyprus is undergoing the Schengen evaluation process to assess its readiness to join. Once the SIS is operational there, the process will be verified and subject to a dedicated evaluation expected this year.

UK launches biometric ETA, initially for Gulf states

From October 2023, Qatari visitors to the UK will be able to apply – with their biometrics – for the new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), followed by visitors from other Gulf Cooperation Council states and Jordan before a worldwide rollout by the end of 2024.

From then on it will be a requirement for worldwide visitors who do not need a visa for short stays. Visitors from America, Australia and Europe, for example, will all need to complete the process, except Irish nationals or those legally resident in Ireland who are covered by the Common Travel Area.

“ETAs will enhance our border security by increasing our knowledge about those seeking to come to the UK and preventing the arrival of those who pose a threat,” comments Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.

“It will also improve travel for legitimate visitors, with those visiting from Gulf Cooperation Council states being among the first to benefit.”

Biometrics will be captured and suitability questions posed in the online registration described as “quick, light touch and entirely digital with most visitors applying via a mobile app and receiving a swift decision on their application.”

No fees are given although it is described as costing roughly the same as other international schemes. The ETA is valid for two years and can be used multiple times unlike the single-visit and more expensive Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) Scheme it replaces.

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