EU delays launch of ETIAS visa travel scheme to 2024

The European Union has delayed the launch of a new visa travel scheme that was due to come into force at the end of this year but is now expected to commence in 2024.

Once it is in place, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System [ETIAS] will require non-EU nationals to apply online and obtain approval before travel to EU countries.

British nationals, including those resident in Gibraltar, will not require a visa to travel to EU countries but will have to register for authorisation from ETIAS and pay seven euros for a three-year visa waiver, much like the US ESTA system that has been in place for some years.

The EU had hoped to launch ETIAS in November this year but the European Commission now says it will commence in 2024, although it has not given an exact date.

The EU also recently delayed the roll out of its new automated Entry/Exit System [EES], which was due to launch in May but has now been pushed back to November.

The EES, which is linked to the wider ETIAS scheme, is aimed at speeding up immigration procedures for non-EU nationals through automation, but many EU countries fear it will in fact slow them down.

Some countries believe clearance procedures could take up to four times longer than at present.

Under the EES scheme, all arrivals from outside the European Union will have four fingerprints scanned and a photograph taken.

The biometric data will be captured on the first entry to the bloc and verified on subsequent visits.

This will replace passport-stamping at all EU external borders, including airports and ports.

In the absence of an agreement for a UK/EU treaty on Gibraltar, the biometric checks and ETIAS requirements would apply at the border between Gibraltar and Spain to non-EU nationals, including British passport holders resident in Gibraltar.

That includes both pedestrians and people travelling in vehicles, who may have to alight to complete the procedures.

The EU says the automated system will provide EU immigration officials with reliable data on border crossings and ensure systematic detection of “over-stayers”, meaning travellers who have exceeded the maximum duration of their authorised stay.

Under Schengen rules, non-EU citizens including British nationals after Brexit can only stay in the EU 90 days in any 180-day period before requiring a visa.

A non-EU national who overstays their 90 days can be removed from the territory, fined or detained, and even prevented from re-entering the EU in future.