By: Jaelin Figueroa
On November 16, 2016, The European Commission first adopted the idea of ETIAS, the European Travel Information and Authorization System. ETIAS is an entry requirement for all visitors traveling to any of ETIAS’s 30 European countries. Nevertheless, we have yet to see the proposal in effect since it has faced several delays. The latest update from the EU is that in the spring of 2025, all visitors will need to abide by the mandatory visa waiver program and submit ETIAS applications prior to any scheduled travel plans. This means that all visitors will need an approved EU Travel Information & Authorization System application to enter any ETIAS member country. Some ETIAS countries include the frequently visited France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and several others. Although ETIAS is not a visa, it is a new entry requirement for American citizens, and a long list of other countries, that is valid for either 3 years or until their passport expires. All visitors, whether by plane or cruise ship, will be checked against European and international data to ensure no potential terrorists or criminals enter the country. This will be completed through an online application that costs around $8 USD (or 7 Euros) and is expected to be processed within 96 hours.
Therefore, the prior simplicity of buying an airline ticket and showing your passport at the border will no longer be enough. However, the purpose of the new security requirement is not to discourage travel within Schengen countries but to increase security. The Schengen countries are comprised of a border-free area that guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens and non-EU nationals. For this reason, ETIAS will help combat illegal immigration, organized crime, and terrorism. Additionally, it will better the travel experience of foreign travelers, digitalize the pre-screening process, and allow an extended validity period.
The U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) holds many similarities to the proposed ETIAS system. Yet, there are some major differences: ESTA authorization is only valid for travel to the United States, while an ETIAS visa waiver allows individuals to travel to all Schengen countries; ESTA authorization is valid for only two years and ETIAS is valid for three; and only around 39 countries’ citizens are able to apply for ESTA while around 50 visa-exempt countries’ citizens can apply for ETIAS. ETIAS appears to be more flexible with who may be granted approval of their visa waiver. Specifically, it is much easier to apply for ETIAS when the applicant has a criminal history. ESTA has been seen to reject applicants who have even minor past offenses. All things considered, like ESTA, ETIAS will serve the benefit of allowing visitors to do everything through an online application which is much simpler and faster to obtain.
All of this sounds fine for future visitors and current Schengen residents, with increased security without many hands-on requirements, individuals can travel across Europe for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. However, this has not stopped individuals from expressing their dissatisfaction and concerns about its effects on the economy and travel. U.S. travelers have long been able to just hop on a plane to visit Europe without giving it much thought. Now, a huge concern is whether Americans will even be aware of the new requirements which will result in them not being able to even board their flight. Travel agents will play a huge role in educating their customers about the program’s implementation if they want to ensure their customer’s failure to abide by the visa waiver program does not result in a ripple effect across the travel industry.
Additional issues with this automated processing system include the risk of profiling going against fundamental rights regarding discrimination, privacy, and due process. The visa program may lead to inaccurate decisions that deprive individuals of their right to liberty with unwarranted seizures, questioning, or investigation. Such practices have been seen in the United States in February of 2020 when Eyal Weizman, a researcher who investigates war crimes and state violence, was barred from traveling to the US after being identified as a security risk by an automated algorithm. Weizman was never given a reason for his refusal of entry. Issues like this may be seen more frequently as the EU and the US each use a highly discretionary system during a time when there are increased international conflicts.
In the first half of 2023, the EU tourism industry saw its highest number of nights stayed in tourism accommodations in the past decade. There were 1,193,000,000 nights spent in tourism accommodations, an 11-million-night increase from the same period pre-COVID-19 in 2019. Whether these numbers stay as high in the coming two years when ETIAS is finally enforced, will be heavily dependent on Americans’ awareness that their “European summer” cannot be planned a few days prior anymore.