It was revealed this month that the European Union’s new border security programme, its Entry/Exit System, has been postponed again. It is now scheduled to go live in November 2023, which may mean it has a softer introduction than if in May, just before the summer holiday season.
It is planned to be the next step in modernising Europe’s borders, creating a digital and more secure record of third country nationals (TCNs), i.e. non-EU residents, who enter and leave the Schengen area. Essentially an IT system and database, the EU EES records the biometrics and personal data of TCNs, matching it to the data on their epassports. Once operational, the EES will form the foundation for the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), a visa waiver with an online application. As it happens, this was due to launch in November of this year and it remains to be seen if this will go live in conjunction with the EES or if it will also now be delayed.
This is a major new development for European borders and will affect all TCNs, including UK travellers following Brexit, entering the Schengen zone at any border checkpoint in any member country. Whilst it is the first such multi-national implementation, it is not a new concept with other countries having done the same on an individual, national basis.
Seamless Processing of Passengers
In the US, capture of biometrics in the form of fingerprints and a photo was introduced in 2004, as part of a system operated by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is part of the US Department of Homeland Security. This captures fingerprint and facial images of arrivals at all US international airports as routine for the Simplified Arrivals programme. It is now being expanded to offer seamless processing of passengers departing the country from selected airports too, allowing those who opt in to pass through check-in, bag drop, pre-security, immigration and boarding without having to present boarding passes and passports.
The US also has its ESTA, as do countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which allow travellers from countries with visa-free agreements, to apply online in advance of travel. This allows personal data to be security checked before departure, moving more towards a risk-based approval system for border control. Obviously, those residents from countries without agreement for visa-free travel must go through traditional visa application processes to enter the destination country. This is another area where mobile and online are being increasingly integrated to speed up applications, make them easier (without having to travel to a physical location, such as an embassy or consulate) as more countries are making this (and the passport) application process digital. Increasingly, countries which have suffered growing backlogs and delays in processing applications are going down this path as a solution to improve efficiency.
VISA Waiver for Europe
The EU’s plans follow this pattern, looking to improve security with better data collection and usage to record and control who is entering its borders. The first pilots took place pre-Covid and the impact of the pandemic, both on traveller expectations and preferences, as well as border agency resources, has boosted the need and subsequent benefits. Whilst we have always expected delays with so many countries needing to coordinate and ensure they have the necessary infrastructure in place, strong progress has been made and we are tracking a growing number of self-service kiosks and egates to capture traveller data and handle passengers on-site. Further teething problems as it gets up and running are to be expected but once this has passed, the queues to register upon the first crossing will reduce and travellers from more countries will be able to self-serve to register and use automated egates to cross borders.
Future Digitisation Strategies for Border Control
Whilst it is known that the EU and other countries (such as the UK) are introducing electronic visa waivers it is not confirmed that there will be wholescale migration to alternative border control approaches. However, we continue to track and monitor the installations of equipment and are seeing greater interest and discussion between countries and vendors on how they can further evolve their border control processes to increase security and improve efficiency. Identity management platforms are increasingly an area of interest for airports, airlines and border agencies, with them looking to implement them as part of their digitisation strategies to revamp their operations. There is not yet strong crossover between centralised government data and operational data (such as API PNR) but this is being evaluated in an effort to evolve away from traditional manual border processes.
Eventually this will lead to a more risk-based approach, combining government and private data, pushing the border out to create a more digital, seamless and traveller-centric service. Before then we will see more online and mobile being introduced into existing processes in advance of, and during, travel. Digital Travel Credentials (DTCs) will be the next big step before we start to see any widespread move away from kiosks and egates as these continue to mature and become common at small and large air, land and sea border crossings.
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