The European Commission has announced the creation of an automated electronic visa waiver program, the European Travel Information Authorization System (ETIAS), to be launched in May 2023. The new visa waiver program is intended to facilitate travel across borders while better identifying security risks for the bloc. ETIAS is one of several recent updates to the European Union's migration scheme, including the digitalization of Schengen visas.

The European Travel Information Authorization System (ETIAS)

At present, non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) citizens of more than sixty (60) countries are eligible for visa-exempt travel to the Schengen Area, which is made up of 26 European countries. Once the new protocol takes effect, citizens of these visa-exempt countries, including US, UK and Canadian nationals, will be required to apply for travel authorization through ETIAS before visiting the Schengen Area.

Once implemented, ETIAS will function as a unified visa waiver program for the Schengen Area, similar to the US ESTA system (see below). As the process is currently envisioned, travelers who are required to apply for travel authorization through ETIAS will have to complete an online application prior to their trip. Once the application has been submitted, the system will conduct a security check and issue the travel authorization within minutes. In rare instances, the system may take up to thirty (30) days to issue the travel authorization. An applicant may appeal a travel authorization refusal. Applicants between the age of eighteen (18) and seventy (70) will be required to pay a ?7 fee for each application.

An EU Counterpart to ESTA

The US has maintained its own electronic travel authorization system for visa-exempt travelers, known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization ("ESTA"), for more than a decade. With the impending launch of ETIAS, the EU has created a counterpart system with the same goals in mind - enhancing border control and security. Both systems require an applicant to provide basic biographical and travel plan information, as well as to answer questions regarding criminal history. ESTA is, and ETIAS will be, mandatory for all travelers, regardless of age.

While ESTA only allows an applicant to enter the US, ETIAS provides an applicant with broader travel coverage, as ETIAS will cover all 26 member countries of the Schengen Area. For travel purposes, ETIAS authorization will be valid for three (3) years, whereas ESTA is only valid for two (2) years. Please continue to follow updates on our blog, The Mobile Workforce.

Originally published by 4 July 2022

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