The European Commission (EC) has confirmed its plans to roll out the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) starting in May 2025. Previously set to launch in 2023, the implementation was delayed due to challenges and complications from the Paris Olympics and the delay of the European Union’s (EU) Entry/Exit System (EES). With the new timeline confirmed, travelers and industry can schedule their preparations for ETIAS’s launch.
Meeting demands and countering threats
ETIAS will require citizens of approximately 60 countries who currently enjoy visa-free access to Europe’s Schengen area to obtain advanced authorization before traveling. Similar to the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization, ETIAS authorization is not a visa but rather a security clearance for short-term visitors. By screening visa-exempt visitors in advance, ETIAS aims to identify potential security and health risks.
The EC developed ETIAS to address increasing demands and challenges for travel security. The number of people visiting Europe continues to rise, with around 50 million individual visitors last year and over 200 million entries. Alongside this, the number of refugees and people seeking asylum has risen sharply in recent years. While these demands present their own challenges, terrorist incidents have also become more frequent, particularly in France, Belgium, Germany and Spain, meaning checkpoint vigilance must be maintained and even increased to ensure national and transnational security.
Fortunately, advances in electronic communication technology as well as the use of the internet by travelers worldwide has made an electronic form of pre-travel authorization a realistic and practical way of obtaining the sort of information that would prove useful to Europe’s collective border authorities and security personnel.
In its November 27, 2023, announcement, the EC said ETIAS will be phased in over a 12-month period rather than immediately requiring all visa-exempt travelers to have ETIAS clearance. This transitional period will last at least six months from the May 2025 launch date.
During the transitional phase, visa-exempt citizens should apply for ETIAS to avoid potential issues, but the authorization will not yet be an entry requirement. During the following six-month grace period ETIAS will be compulsory for most travelers, but first-time visitors since the end of the transitional period will still be granted entry.
To apply for ETIAS, applicants will need to provide biographical information and passport details and answer background questions related to security, health and immigration status. The EC says authorization will be granted within minutes for most applicants.
Schengen visa application process to be digitalized
The EC’s ETIAS timeline announcement follows the Council of the European Union’s November 23 approval of the digitalization of the Schengen visa application process for those who require visas to enter Schengen area countries. This decision will change how individuals apply for visas to enter the Schengen area.
As a result of the council’s decision, a centralized EU visa application platform will be established, allowing applicants to submit their visa requests online, with only a few exceptions requiring in-person visits. This platform will enable applicants to input information, upload electronic copies of travel documents, and pay the visa fee online. Notifications regarding visa decisions will also be communicated through this platform. The platform will automatically decide which country will process applications for those planning to visit multiple Schengen countries, although applicants can still indicate a preference for a particular country to process their application.
Under the new regulations, physical appearances at consulates will become largely unnecessary, except for first-time applicants, those with expired biometric data, and individuals with new travel documents.
The digitalization of the Schengen visa process also introduces a significant technological upgrade. The traditional visa sticker will be replaced by a cryptographically signed barcode, aligning the visa process with modern technological standards. This upgrade not only provides a higher level of protection for visa documentation but also lowers the possibility of forging visas.
The exact date for the commencement of the online Schengen visa application process is yet to be confirmed but EU authorities have stated that the new rules will come into effect as soon as the visa platform and digital visa are ready. Once the regulations are signed, they will be published in the European Union’s Official Journal and will become effective on the 20th day following their publication.
The digitalization of the process has already been welcomed by several European nations, with Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez, the Spanish Minister for the Interior, stating that the online visa application process would be a “game changer” that would both simplify the process for travelers and ease the burden on national administrations.