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ETIAS clarifies biometric data requirements about Europe’s new visa system

But confusion remains among travelers
ETIAS clarifies biometric data requirements about Europe’s new visa system

As Europe prepares to introduce its new Entry/Exit System (EES) at the end of 2023, confusion is growing around data requirements for travelers.

The European Travel Information Authorisation Scheme (ETIAS) clarified last week that the ETIAS application form will not request any biometric data, such as fingerprints from visa-exempt travelers which cover more than 60 countries, including U.S., Japan, Australia, South Korea and more.

While the ETIAS application doesn’t require biometrics, travelers will still need to submit biometric passport numbers, while fingerprints and face biometrics are collected when the person travels to the Schengen area.

Despite the new clarifications, representatives from the travel industry say that most travelers are unaware of the upcoming changes and that this could have ripple effects on the tourism industry, industry publication Travel Pulse reports.

“I think very few people are aware of this coming change and even fewer would ever imagine that the USA or Canada would be included in such a situation,” says Roman Townsend, managing director for communications agency focused on travel Belvera Partners.

According to the new travel regime, visitors will no longer be able to simply show up in Europe, they will need to apply in advance for authorization to visit or they will not be able to get onto flights bound for the impacted European countries. Those traveling by ground transportation will face rejection at the EU borders.

The speed of obtaining a visa once an application is submitted could be the true test of the new program, according to travel experts cited by Travel Pulse.

Travelers who apply through ETIAS will be automatically cross-checked against the biometrics and other data stored in other European databases, such as the Schengen Information System (SIS), Visa Information System (VIS), and Entry/Exit System. ETIAS promises that the automatic processing should not take more than a few minutes.

Travel agencies are not the only ones concerned about Europe’s new travel rules. In May, monitoring organization Statewatch obtained a report from Europol that described progress on creating watchlists for identifying connections between people seeking authorization to travel to the EU and terrorist or criminal suspects.

Travelers seeking to enter the EU will be subjected to algorithmic screening designed to flag potential security, immigration or health risks. The watchlist will include data on people who are suspected of having committed or taken part in terrorist or other serious criminal offenses but also people who it is believed may commit such offenses in the future, which may become a source of future controversy.

The European Commission has yet to make the technical specifications of the ETIAS watchlist public, the organization warns, as both the ETIAS project and the Entry/Exit System have been plagued with delays. The Entry/Exit System was initially set to be launched in 2020 but was then delayed to May 2023 and is now expected at the end of 2023.

The Europol document blamed the delays on eu-LISA, the EU agency tasked with operating large-scale IT systems related to border management such as the Entry/Exit System, ETIAS, VIS and SIS. The agency has in turn passed the blame on its contractors, IBM, Atos and Leonardo.

Due to the delays in implementing the Entry/Exit System, the European Union is currently debating whether it should be separated from the ETIAS system. If the decoupling was approved, ETIAS can realistically enter into operation in May 2024 according to a policy analysis document composed by the Belgian delegation to the Council of EU. But more confusion could follow as ETIAS may need to adjust its technical development priorities due to the changes.

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