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UK Lords committee urges delay for EU’s EES and ETIAS

UK Lords committee urges delay for EU’s EES and ETIAS

A government committee in the United Kingdom is calling for the rollout of the European Union’s biometric-based travel schemes to be delayed, saying that the timetable for introducing changes at the border is “extremely ambitious.” At the same time, the government needs to prioritize border upgrades and communication with the public about them, the committee says.

The Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee made the call at the conclusion of an inquiry into the electronic border systems. The agency warns that unless the government acts quickly, a “major travel disruption” could befall the country.

The UK is currently implementing three new travel regimes: the EU’s Entry-Exit System and the Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) as well as the country’s own Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). The travel schemes require travelers to submit biometric data such as fingerprints and could potentially lead to massive delays at UK ports of entry such as St Pancras Eurostar railway station in London, the Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover.

European border agency Frontex has been piloting an EES pre-registration app designed to cut down wait times for travelers entering and exiting the Schengen Area. The app’s development, however, was only recently approved and it will not be ready on time.

“The Committee urges the Government to use all diplomatic efforts to persuade the EU to delay the introduction of the EES/ETIAS until the smartphone application is available,” the committee states in its conclusions.

The EU has already delayed the EES several times, with the new launch date expected to be October 2024.

Mayhem on the borders could also impact public confidence in the UK’s border management abilities. In a letter to Tom Pursglove, minister for legal migration and the border, committee chair Lord Foster of Bath expresses alarm over the lack of awareness of the new border regimes among UK citizens.

“The Government should seek to work as closely as possible with the EU to ensure that the introduction of the ETA and the EES do not overlap,” the document says.

The government responded that it will continue to work with the EU and member states as well as global carriers and ports to minimize the impacts of the border system changes, according to The Independent.

Aside from new European travel schemes, the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) has also come under attack. The government introduced the “digital permission to enter the UK” in late 2023 for nationals of Gulf countries and Jordan, with plans for expansion to other states. The committee, however, has questioned the usefulness of the scheme in improving border security considering the lack of quality data about visitors.

After Brexit, the UK lost real-time access to some European databases. The British government has recently signed a Working Agreement with Frontex which grants access to the EU’s EUROSUR border database but work is still ongoing on accessing the Schengen Information System (SIS) II, the largest biometric information-sharing system for security and border management in Europe.

“It is fundamental to our security that the Government works effectively with other countries to ensure that data on people of concern is as good as possible. Nevertheless, the estimated number of ETA refusals is concerning,” the committee says.

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