The EU has once again delayed the introduction of its visa-waiver programme for third-country nationals such as British passport-holders – now until at least mid-2025.
Etias will see eligible non-EU residents pay a €7 fee to enter 30 countries in the bloc, including Spain and France.
Like the US’s Esta programme, visitors aged 18-70 from more than 60 countries will need to apply for an Etias in advance of travel. It will be valid for three years, or until the holder’s passport expires, whichever comes sooner. People aged under 18 or over 70 will still need to apply but will not have to pay the fee
The system was intended to come into effect a year ago, in late 2022, but operational hurdles – notably the IT infrastructure required to process Etias at space-constrained border points – have seen it repeatedly pushed back until May, then November 2023,and then 2024.
However, the European Union has since confirmed that “starting in mid-2025, some 1.4bn people from over 60 visa-exempt countries will be required to have a travel authorisation to enter most European countries”.
The European Commission says that applicants will receive a positive answer to their online application within a few minutes, but that about five per cent will require further checks by the Etias central unit.
Paving the way for Etias will be the first stage, the Entry/Exit System (EES), which is now scheduled to be operational from autumn 2024. It will see third-country entrants providing biometric data at the border – systems will store a combination of four fingerprints and a facial image and the data will be collected once and stored for three years.
With around 1.4 billion people required to subscribe to EES and Etias, there are concerns that the new measures will significantly delay border checks. Non-profit civil liberties organisation Statewatch says “member states have confirmed that despite promises of increasing efficiency, the EES will substantially increase border crossing times.”
The EES system will operate at the Port of Dover and Eurostar and Eurotunnel terminals in the UK under reciprocal border check agreements with France, all of which are already space-constrained.