Europe is gearing up to be ready for a new entry exit system known as EES in autumn 2024 and an eventual visa waiver programme called ETIAS, set to follow in 2025. When the new processes finally come into play, the EES will record the details of non-EU citizens as well as their movements each time they pass through the EU’s external borders. Under ETIAS, potential visitors to EU member countries will need to apply for an ETIAS visa waiver ahead of travel, and can do so using the official website.
But with several months yet to go before either system is in force, Frontex, the European Union agency in charge of border control, has said there are already as many as 60 unofficial ETIAS websites live online.
Intermediaries and risks of sharing information
It is perfectly legal for commercial ‘middlemen’ to offer services such as applying for visa waivers on behalf of other people. However, due to the highly personal and financially sensitive information that the applications require, such as passport details and credit card numbers, it is easy for unscrupulous providers to take advantage of unsuspecting holidaymakers.
“Once ETIAS is launched,” Frontex has said, “the commercial intermediaries will have to use the official ETIAS website – the only official channel – to apply for the travel authorisation on behalf of their clients. Applying on the official website will cost €7. Any additional charges will go to the intermediaries. When applying for an ETIAS authorisation, it is important for travellers to consider whom they are giving their personal information to and how much they are willing to pay in addition to the application fee. It is important travellers take time and assess these factors carefully.”
Online learning events for the industry
In an attempt to get ahead of the risk, the Travel Association (the Association of British Travel Agents – Abta) is hosting online learning events alongside European Union experts and officials to discuss the EES as well as update its members about the implications for travellers and travel bookers of the ETIAS scheme.
Explaining the need for the webinar, Abta’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, noted in a statement that the introduction of the two systems would “impact all UK citizens travelling to EU countries” and highlighted Abta members’ “very important role in offering advice and guidance to their customers to help them understand the changes and what they need to do, which is why we’re working to provide them with the information they need.” “We also know,” he added, “that there is a real risk of people falling foul of unofficial websites to get an ETIAS, with Frontex reporting 60 sites already live.”
Speaking at the webinar will be DG Home, which is the European Commission department rolling out EES – as well as the aforementioned Frontex. “We’re encouraging as many members as possible to sign up to the webinar to hear first-hand from the agencies delivering these changes,” Tanzer said.