Back in March of 2017, we told you about a motion that passed through the European Parliament rescinding the right of American citizens to travel to the Euro-Zone visa-free. Well, that day has come. Last week, the European Union announced that as of 2021 all American citizens (and all other citizens from countries with visa-free travel to the EU) wishing to travel to any Schengen Country (countries associated with the European-Economic Zone with borderless travel) will need to apply for an ETIAS pre-screening.
The European Travel Information and Authorization System is being implemented to combat a couple of things. Mainly, this is a tit-for-tat slap to America for refusing to remove visa pre-screening requirements for EU citizens from Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania. Secondly, we already require all European Union citizens (even from the UK) to do exactly the same thing via our own ESTA program, which started over ten years ago. Lastly, this really is an extra layer of security that’s hard to argue with in this day and age.
Essentially, the pre-authorization process allows a nation (or immigration bureau) the chance to make sure the person crossing their border is who they say they are and that said person is not on a terrorist watchlist. From the European Commission: “This will help to identify any possible security concerns prior to their travel to the Schengen area, thus contributing to more efficient management of the EU’s external borders and improved internal security”
Let’s break this down. When you apply for your ETIAS approval, you will be asked (link is to a non-gov website with solid info) about your previous criminal record. Whether the ETIAS system has the ability to check if, say, you had a DUI five years ago is a little murky. They’ll also ask if you’ve spent time in conflict zones. This is, easily justifiable if you’re a journalist with a press pass, a doctor on a medical mission, or an NGO worker. Lastly, they’ll ask if you’ve ever been asked to leave a country and give paper documentation that you’re allowed to return. Hey, remember that time you got arrested in Cancun and deported? Yeah, that might come back to bite you in the ass.
So how — exactly — is ETIAS going to cross-check any of this? According the European Union, they’ll be using the following databases: SIS (Schengen Information System), VIS (Visa Information System), EUROPOL DATA, SLTD & TDAWN (Interpol), EURODAC (fingerprint database), ETIAS database, “etc…” What exactly those “etc…” databases are is anyone’s guess. And before you ask — yes, your American criminal record is accessible via Interpol.