Brexit fingerprint checks for UK travellers in Europe set to start in 10 months

UK passport holders face lengthy queues for travel to Europe under a new border system that is expected to launch next October.

The Entry/Exit System (EES) will see travellers from non-EU third countries hand over sensitive personal data to border authorities and could make millions of euros for IT companies, according to EU Civil Liberties group Statewatch.

Fingerprints and facial scans will be taken from British travellers the first time they cross into the Schengen Area after the digital border system starts and this information will be entered into an EU-wide database.

Eurotunnel, which runs a car transport service between Folkestone and Calais, confirmed with i that it has been openly discussing 6 October with the French government as a potential launch date for the system, although the European Commission has yet to provide written confirmation. Eurotunnel is working with the French government on implementing and testing technology in time for an October launch.

This date was first reported by The Independent.

Chris Jones, director of Statewatch, told i that “border crossing times into the EU will increase substantially when the EES is implemented” as has been confirmed by member states, including Austria, Germany and France.

He added: “The Austrian government has estimated that waiting times, often already lengthy, will double when the system comes into use.

“Holidaymakers, workers, students and people visiting their families are unlikely to experience the convenience and efficiency promised by proponents of the system.

“Instead, it seems the main beneficiaries will be police and border agencies hungry for more sensitive personal data, and the IT companies that stand to make hundreds of millions of euros from the contracts for setting up and operating the system.”

French public finance watchdog Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors) released a report earlier this year that also estimated that queues at the UK-France border will at least double when the EES is launched in 2024.

The country has reportedly ordered 540 data kiosks and 250 tablets for processing ferry passengers.

EES was planned when the UK was still part of the EU. However, it has been postponed on several occasions while EU member states have faced difficulties in combining their systems with the wider database.

The new border system will replace passport stamping, which is used to check that third country travellers have not stayed in the EU for more than 90 days in any 180-day period.

Since Brexit, the UK has become a “third country” to the EU and Britons have been required to get their passport stamped on entry and exit from the bloc.

UK passport holders, like other non-EU travellers, must also meet new entry requirements when they are launched, including EES.

French authorities will operate the EES border checks at the Port of Dover, Folkestone for Eurotunnel and at St Pancras International for Eurostar departures.

Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover, has previously warned of the long queues that could result from the new border system.

Post-Brexit passport checks have already resulted in long queues at Dover, including last Easter when holidaymakers reported waits of up to 12 hours.

Bannister has said that an app could be developed to allow passengers to start the EES registration process before they arrive at Dover.

Gwendoline Cazenave, chief executive of Eurostar International, has suggested a similar approach for the rail operator’s customers.

“What we are pushing with the EU is to have more pre-registration operations done on your couch,” she told The Guardian.

A spokesperson for Eurostar told i: “We are working closely with UK and EU member states authorities, as well as with our station owners, to prepare for the implementation of EES.

“We are actively engaging governments to try and find solutions to preserve a smooth travel experience for our customers.”

Meanwhile, at Dover, a plan is already underway to reclaim land in the port’s western docks. While originally intended for cargo use it could be used to hold ferry passengers when EES begins.

Getlink, which owns Eurotunnel, is spending £100m on a new area where passengers will be able to register their data for EES.

The EES system will apply for entry to most members of the EU, but not Ireland, Cyprus, Romania or Bulgaria. It will also be implemented for travel to Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Biometric data that is taken from non-EU travellers on the first time they enter the EU when EES has launched is likely to be erased from the system for data protection reasons three years after their last trip to a country using the system.

Nationals of countries requiring a visa to enter the EU will not have their fingerprints taken as they will already have provided fingerprints as part of their visa application.

Once EES is underway, the next change to rules for travel to EU will be Etias. This visa waiver, similar to the US Esta, could be introduced around six months after EES has started.

The European Commission was contacted for comment.