The ETIAS electronic visa waiver for Europe’s Schengen Area will not become mandatory until the end of 2022, the European Commission confirms.
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or ETIAS, is a new travel authorization system for Europe’s Schengen Area.
The ETIAS was approved by the European Parliament in 2016 and was scheduled to be launched in 2021. This date will now be pushed back to 2022 and the ETIAS not become an obligation for visitors until 6 months after it is launched.
Modeled on the ESTA for the US, the ETIAS will be a requirement for visa-exempt travelers visiting any of the Schengen member states.
The Schengen Area consists of 26 European countries. Of these, 22 are members of the European Union (EU), while the remaining 4 are the member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
The members of the Schengen Area share an open borders policy. This means that after arriving in a member state, a foreign national can travel freely between all the constituent countries without going through border checks.
At present, nationals of various countries enjoy visa exemption and can enter the Schengen Area with only their passports. This includes citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. After the Brexit process is complete, it will also include citizens of the United Kingdom (UK).
The original expectations were that the system would be operational within 5 years. However, official European Commission sources have confirmed that ETIAS will not be online until 2022.
An EU commission spokesperson stated, “the current planning for ETIAS implementation is it will apply as of end 2022”.
Although it is probable that it will first become available at the end of 2022, it will not be mandatory for travelers to register with the system for the first 6 months, according to sources specializing in ETIAS.
In this time, the member states of the Schengen Area must inform all visa-exempt travelers crossing their borders about ETIAS and the fact that it will become an obligation. Information leaflets will be distributed at border checkpoints as well as at embassies and consulates belonging to Schengen states.
During this “grace period”, it will be optional for eligible travelers to register with ETIAS, which will then be valid for all travel to the Schengen Area for 3 years. After this, ETIAS registration will become an obligation.
There will be a further “grace period” of 6 months following this, in which visa-exempt foreign nationals entering the Schengen Area for the first time since ETIAS was introduced will still be allowed in without an ETIAS as long as they register as soon as possible.
This is to allow both travelers and border control staff time to become accustomed to the new regulations.
The grace period means that ETIAS registration will not be a requirement for traveling to Europe until 2023.
The delay in implementing the ETIAS is good news for British travelers heading to Europe. When the United Kingdom completes its withdrawal from the EU (scheduled for the end of 2020), British nationals will lose their right to freedom of movement around the Schengen Area and will join the list of visa-exempt nationalities.
This means that once ETIAS is implemented, British travelers will be required to register in order to travel to Schengen member states. Now that this has been delayed to 2023, it means that British visitors to Europe can continue to do so with only their passports and no additional fees.