Under Europe’s ETIAS, Non-Visa Visitors Will Need Electronic Authorization

By Dinah Wisenberg Brin August 18, 2021
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Europe at night from space

​Citizens of roughly 60 countries, including the U.S., who don't need a visa to visit much of Europe will be required to apply electronically in advance for authorization to travel there under a new system expected to launch by the end of 2022.

Under the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), non-European Union citizens seeking visa-free travel to any of 26 nations in the Schengen area—a zone without internal border checks—will need to register online and gain approval before being allowed to board planes to the region.

The Schengen zone encompasses Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

A Security Measure

ETIAS—similar to the United States' Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)—aims to lower crime and terrorism risks in Europe and ease border procedures for visitors. Applicants will need to provide background information, disclosing whether they have been convicted of certain serious crimes or have traveled to war-torn countries in the past 10 years, or have been convicted of terrorism offenses in the previous 20 years.

"The implementation of ETIAS is intended to make visa-free travel to Europe more efficient and safer. It will improve traveler tracking and border security, reduce procedures and admission times when entering EU countries, help detect and decrease crime and terrorism, impede irregular migration, and reinforce the benefits of visa-free travel," said Karin Wolman, a New York City-based immigration lawyer with the Law Offices of Karin Wolman.

Initially set to go into effect on Jan. 1 this year, ETIAS now is expected to become operational by the end of 2022, with transitional measures planned for a smooth introduction.

"Those travelers who have not registered or whose registration is revoked or suspended may be denied boarding, or the airlines may be subject to fines," Wolman said.

In most cases, she said, ETIAS approval will take minutes and, once approved, a traveler's registration will remain valid for three years. Like visa-waiver program visitors to the U.S. with a valid ESTA registration, travelers with ETIAS approval to visit the Schengen countries will be admitted for up to 90 days for business, pleasure, medical or transit purposes, but will not be allowed to work or study in the EU, Wolman noted.

Registration will cost 7 euros (approximately US $8.28). The traveler's passport must be valid for at least three months past the end date of the intended stay, and the traveler will have to provide a valid e-mail address and valid credit or debit card, as well as detailed information about family, address, travel, employment history and, if applicable, criminal history. Traveler information will be checked against European and Interpol databases, according to immigration lawyers.

Unlike visa applications, ETIAS doesn't require applicants to visit a consulate or provide biometric data, according to an EU memo on the program. It also gathers significantly less data, taking about 10 minutes to complete, where a Schengen visa application process can take 15 days—and up to 60 days in some cases.

"The ETIAS travel authorization will be a necessary and small procedural step for all visa-exempt travelers, which will allow them to avoid bureaucracy and delays when presenting themselves at the borders," the EU memo says.

Employee Awareness Is Key

To ensure smooth business travel, employers will need to ensure that employees are aware of and prepared for ETIAS, immigration lawyers said.

"For United States citizens and others who will attend conferences, trade shows, business meetings with clients, vendors, manufacturers, etc., organizations will need to ensure that all employees engaged in travel to the Schengen area are aware of and in compliance with the new requirement by the end of 2022 and will have a valid ETIAS registration when booking travel," Wolman said.

"Employees should be reminded that any name change or lost wallet which results in a new passport will require them to register for ETIAS anew. Any arrest history or past travel to conflict zones will be closely scrutinized and may result in ETIAS denial. For this reason, news media, charitable service and human rights organizations will have to be particularly vigilant about how ETIAS is implemented," she added.

Currently, travelers from visa-waiver countries like the U.S. may be asked little when entering an EU country, perhaps only about the trip's purpose and how long they plan to stay, noted Nicolas Rollason, an attorney with Kingsley Napley LLP in London. If they're carrying the proper documents and have adequate funds and their passport swipe checks out, they're generally let in without any problems, he said.

"The difference will be that at the end of next year, prior to travel, you have to make this application," Rollason said.

The application asks whether travelers have been convicted of various serious crimes, including money laundering, rape, murder and human trafficking.

An ETIAS applicant who has been convicted of one of the listed criminal offenses could face delays. An applicant may appeal an authorization denial and must be told which EU country made the decision, he said.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance writer and reporter in Philadelphia.

[Want to learn more? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]

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