28 December, 2017
1. Brexit negotiators should prioritise agreement on future ease of travel by UK and EU citizens going to and from the continent. Those leading the talks will also need to consider the post-departure implications of separate UK and EU improvements in border technology. There have been reports that the UK may introduce a ‘light-touch’ pre-authorisation scheme for certain travellers along the lines of the United States’ Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). For its part, the EU is in the process of introducing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), along with fingerprint and photograph checks for all arrivals at the Schengen border (an Entry-Exit System or EES). EU officials have already indicated that ETIAS will apply to UK nationals after Brexit. Conclusions are at paragraphs 25-26.
2. Nearly 35 million passengers arrive from the EU at the UK border each year. The UK government’s draft immigration proposals, published by the media in September 2017, highlighted the priority of ‘maintaining a smooth entry procedure to the UK for legitimate travellers’ after Brexit. This is the correct approach. Brexit negotiators should prioritise an agreement on future ease of travel. More difficult questions will arise with respect to planned border technology improvements. They are described below.
3. The 26-state Schengen area consists of 22 EU member states (all EU members excluding the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia) and four non-EU states: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
4. Currently, citizens of 106 countries require visas to be issued prior to entry to the Schengen area, while around 1.4 billion citizens of 61 countries can enter the Schengen area without a visa for short stays not exceeding 90 days in any 180-day period (see lists of the respective countries in Annexes B and C).
5. Citizens of countries in the former category must obtain a short-stay visa from the national authorities of the Schengen member state of entry in order to travel into the zone. This allows the holder to?transit through or reside in this territory for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. It costs just over £50 for a short-stay visa.
6. Since November 2015, visa nationals have been required to provide biometric data (fingerprints) and a photograph when submitting an application. This data is then stored in a Visa Information System (VIS). This is complemented by the Schengen Information System (SIS), which enables authorities to enter and consult alerts on wanted or missing persons and objects.
7. Citizens of 61 countries can enter and travel throughout the Schengen area for short stays using only their passport. They are not currently required to provide biometric data such as fingerprints or photographs in advance.
8. The EU is planning two new systems to collect information from those entering the Schengen area. These arrangements would apply to arrivals at the external Schengen borders (including upon arrival in four non-EU Schengen countries) and to EU member states that do not yet fully apply the Schengen acquis i.e. Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania. Under the EU treaties, Denmark will have to decide within six months after the Council has passed the relevant legislation whether to implement it into national law.
9. As the name implies, the EES would replace the current system of manual passport stamps with the procurement of basic and biometric information (ie. fingerprints or a photograph) from every non-EU national entering and exiting the Schengen area (both those who require a visa and those who do not). The aim is to improve intelligence on potential overstayers. The checks would be done at self-service kiosks and supplemented by border guard inspection. Data would be retained for three years but this period could be extended to five years for third country nationals who had overstayed.
10. On 20 November 2017, the Council of the EU adopted the EES regulation, along with an accompanying regulation which reforms the Schengen border code. The EU expects the EES to be operational from the start of January 2020. However, the experience of attempts to introduce a biometric entry-exit system in the U.S. over the last two decades suggests that it is unlikely that the EES will be completed on schedule.
11. Schengen border guards already have access to advanced information on visa-exempt passengers who arrive by air (as a result of a 2002 EU directive). However, they currently lack this kind of advanced information when deciding on entry of those who have arrived by other means of transport (or on foot). It is intended that ETIAS addresses this lacuna by requiring all visa-exempt travellers who are planning to travel to the Schengen area to apply online for pre-clearance at least 72 hours prior to their trip.
12. ETIAS has been described as a ‘visa’ in parts of the UK media. This is misleading, as ETIAS will not require the provision of biometric data (unlike the current application requirements for UK and Schengen visitor visas). Instead, obtaining ETIAS approval is likely to involve a ten-minute online procedure as well as the provision of details on the applicant’s identity, contact information, purpose of journey, itinerary, education and occupational status.
13. Under the latest EU proposals, adopted in October 2017 by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, each authorisation would cost ten Euros (just under £9) for a visa-exempt passenger planning a trip to the Schengen area. Persons younger than 18 and older than 60 would not be required to pay the fee, nor would family members of EU citizens, students and science personnel. ETIAS authorisation would allow unlimited trips of up to 90 days in a 180-day period and last three years. For comparison, the authorisation period under the United States’ ESTA scheme is two years, while a Canadian eTA lasts for five years (see Annex A).
14. ETIAS proposals are currently being debated in the EU’s legislative bodies. The plan is for implementation by 2020.
15. For six months after ETIAS comes online, the requirement for visitors to obtain authorisation would be optional, extendable for another six months.
16. Preserving ease of travel between the UK and EU after Brexit should be a priority as the negotiations move forward. The UK should impose only minimal formalities on EU citizens arriving at the border. Those who plan to work would need to apply for a work permit.
17. It is highly unlikely that the negotiations will result in travel between the UK and EU that requires a visa to be issued in advance. As a Common Market and then EU member for over four decades, the UK already meets the criteria for visa-free access to the Schengen area, which has already been accorded to 61 non-EU nations. Similarly, the UK grants visa-free entry to citizens of 56 countries, including those from the United States, Japan and Brazil. As Home Secretary Amber Rudd stated before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in January 2017, ‘having visa travel for the European Union in the same way that we have it for other countries is certainly something we would seek to avoid in any discussions’.
18. As stated by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee in late November 2017, the biometric EES ‘would apply to UK nationals unless a different outcome were to be secured as part of the UK’s exit negotiations’. The question of whether UK law enforcement authorities would, in future, be able to access EES data is also a topic for discussion during the talks.
19. Top EU officials have already indicated that UK citizens will be subject to ETIAS in future. Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Interior Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos were quoted in November 2016 as saying that the system ‘will certainly apply to UK nationals after Brexit’. However, any future applicability of ETIAS to UK nationals will likely depend on the negotiations.
20. The government is also considering the introduction of an electronic travel authorisation system for certain travellers to the UK - there are reports that this may be similar to the United States’ ESTA (described in Annex A). In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, the Home Secretary said:
You may be aware that the EU itself has proposed putting in place an electronic travel authority, which is largely for security measures, where everyone will have to participate and submit their information. We have said that we may look at doing that as well.
21. A leaked draft Home Office document on post-Brexit immigration arrangements, published by the media in September 2017, said:
We are considering whether to introduce a requirement for certain travellers to the UK to have obtained an Electronic Travel Authorisation before they travel, in the same way that the U.S. requires UK travellers going to the U.S. to have obtained an ESTA. This would be a simple, light-tough online system which would enable us to make a more informed decision on the basis of information obtained at an earlier stage as to whether individuals should be allowed to travel to the UK… We will discuss with the EU whether our respective proposals should apply to UK and EU citizens.
22. If the UK followed the model of the ESTA, an online application by a traveller planning to come to the UK could be made 72 hours prior to departure and would cost $14 (just over £10). Once granted, authorisation would be valid for multiple trips of up to 90 days during a two year period.
23. Should the EU apply ETIAS to UK citizens after Brexit, it would be for the UK government to decide whether to reciprocate.
24. The Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK and the Republic of Ireland will not be affected by ETIAS and the EES. The Republic of Ireland is not currently a Schengen member and will not be joining the zone once Britain leaves the EU. Schengen membership is not compatible with maintenance of the CTA. The Irish and UK governments have confirmed that maintaining the CTA is a shared goal.
25. After Brexit, there should be minimal formalities at the UK border for arriving EU citizens. However, those who plan to work should need to apply for a work permit. It would be in the interests of both sides if such arrangements were reciprocated by the EU with respect to UK nationals travelling to the continent. The post-Brexit implications of planned improvements to border technology will depend upon the negotiations.
The Canadian Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) system for visa-exempt nationals, which began operation in 2015, applies to visits of less than six months and costs just $7 Canadian dollars (just over £4). Approved eTAs are valid for five years.
The U.S. has 38 countries (including the UK) on its visa-waiver list. Citizens of these countries can apply to visit the U.S. in advance of travel by registering under the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (or ESTA, which began operation in 2009). The application costs $14 U.S. (or just over £10). Applicants are asked to fill in details online 72 hours before departure. Authorisation applies to visits of 90 days or less and is generally valid for multiple trips over a period of two years. Since 2009, more than 90 million ESTAs have been approved. However, more than 5,900 ESTA applications have been rejected on national security grounds.
Turkey introduced an electronic visa scheme in 2013. This does not solely apply to visa-exempt nationals but is aimed at streamlining the application process for all of those who require visas. A Turkish e-visa costs $20 (just under £15). Travellers can apply up to three months in advance of the departure date. Turkish visit visas issued on arrival are valid for multiple stays of up to a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period.
The Indian e-Tourist visa, introduced in 2014, allows one single visit for a stay of up to 30 days in India. The cost ranges between zero and $75 (£56), depending on nationality. A maximum of two online visas can be issued within one year. An Indian e-Visa is valid for one single entry.
Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Moldova, Republic of
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Serbia (excluding holders of Serbian passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate)
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United States of America
Special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China
-Hong Kong SAR
British citizens who are not nationals of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the purposes of Union law
-British nationals (Overseas)
-British overseas territories citizens
-British overseas citizens
-British protected persons
Entities and territorial authorities that are not recognised as states by at least one member state:
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Papua New Guinea
São Tomé and Príncipe
Kosovo (as defined by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999)