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New tools for an integrated European Border Management Strategy

European Commission - MEMO/08/85   13/02/2008

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MEMO/08/85

Brussels, 13 February 2008

New tools for an integrated European Border Management Strategy

With the increasing mobility of persons, the European Union faces a challenge; how to enable fluent border crossings and facilitate the entry of bona fide travellers while enhancing security. Facing this challenge will require further development of the integrated Border Management Strategy of the European Union in a comprehensive way, taking into consideration the possibilities that new technology offers. Making use of new technologies in an extensive, consistent and proportionate way, identifying synergies among systems to most effectively apply these technologies is the key element for an effective integrated Border Management Strategy in the medium-term. A step-by-step approach is needed, implementing what has already been planned and decided, while developing a long-term strategy that builds upon existing initiatives.

The Communication Preparing the next steps in border management in the European Union, presented today, puts forward suggestions for new tools that would form an integrated part of the European border management of the future, including:

  • proposals for the introduction of an entry/exit system, allowing the electronic recording of the dates of entry and exit of third country nationals into and out of the Schengen area;
  • proposals to facilitate border crossing for bona fide travellers, through the introduction of automated border crossing facilities for EU citizens and certain categories of third country nationals;
  • parameters for the possible introduction of an Electronic Travel Authorisation System.

Facts and figures

Present situation – current tools

Europe is and will continue to be the world’s most important tourist destination[1]. There are in the order of 300 million EU27 external border crossings per annum[2] (i.e. approximately 150 million movements into the EU and 150 million out) at designated border crossing points. It is estimated that 160 million of these border crossings are made by EU citizens, 60 million [3] by third country nationals (TCN) not requiring a visa and 80 million by TCN requiring visas. For the time being, only official data is provided by Eurostat. However, this data is based on overnight stays.

In accordance with the data from the Member States there were 880 million EU27 external border crossings in 2005 and 878 million in 2006. Member States do not record such movements in a coherent manner, so the rates are based on estimations or samples. It is not known how many of the border crossings were made by TCN.

It is estimated that there were up to 8 million illegal immigrants within the EU in 2006[4]. An estimated 80% were within the Schengen area. It is likely that over half of illegal immigrants enter the EU legally but become illegal due to overstaying their right to stay[5].

In 2006 in the order of 500,000 (year 2005 429 000; year 2004 396 000) illegal immigrants were apprehended in the EU and it is estimated that around 40% of these were removed.

Data collected at national level indicate that more than 75% of the illegal immigrants that were apprehended on the territory of Member States in 2006 were from third countries where visas to visit the EU are required. It is therefore likely that most overstayers originate from these third countries.

Border controls involve identity checks and the information is searched against various databases of known persons to be either apprehended or denied entry to the territory. These procedures can lead to refusals to enter the EU. In 2006 over 300,000 (year 2005 280 000; year 2004 397 000)[6] persons were refused entry at EU borders. Most of these were from third countries where visas are required. This compares with the estimated 70 million TCN entries into the EU (both visa and non visa holders); approximately 4 per thousand are refused for entry at borders. The majority of refused entries are those without the appropriate travel documents and suspected of being prospective illegal immigrants.

It is reasonable to assume that many travellers cross the borders more than twice per annum and that a minority of the crossings are made by frequent travellers. For example, EU and third-country nationals business travellers, researchers and their technical staff, students, EU citizens with close family connections to third countries, third-country nationals and EU citizens living in regions bordering the EU are all likely to make multiple border crossings per annum. It is estimated that around 20% of border crossings of third-country nationals applying for Schengen visas are regular travellers seeking multiple entry visas.

The biggest amount of crossings of the external border occur at the airports. Land border crossing points are the next most frequently used type of border crossing. There are 1792 designated EU external border crossing points with controls (665 air borders, 871 sea borders and 246 land borders).

The concept of an integrated border management involves combining control mechanisms and the use of tools based on the flows of persons towards and into the EU. It involves measures taken at the consulates of Member States in third countries, measures in cooperation with neighbouring third countries, measures at the border itself, and measures taken within the Schengen area. The key elements of this concept currently include the following measures, which apply with regard to third country nationals travelling to a Member State taking part in the Schengen cooperation or a country associated to this cooperation.

As defined in Community law travellers from certain third countries are subject to the visa obligation.[7] For this category, a first check of whether they fulfil the conditions of entry and stay takes place in conjunction with the visa application at the consulates of Member States in third countries.

Third country nationals requiring a short stay visa will be checked against the Visa Information System, which will be fully operational in 2012 at the earliest including the roll-out at consulates and border crossing points. The European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the legal bases for the VIS in 2007 and it is expected to be formally adopted in the first half of 2008. The main purposes of the VIS are, on entry, to verify the authenticity of the visa and the identity of its holder. Biometrics – facial image and fingerprints - will be introduced from the start in the VIS. The Commission has presented a proposal to amend the Schengen Borders Code, making compulsory the verification of the identity of the visa holder at each entry.

For persons travelling by air to the EU, before or in relation with boarding data equivalent to what is contained in the passport is transmitted as Advanced Passenger Information (API) at request of the Member State of destination in order to alert the border guard authorities on risky passengers.[8] API data cannot be used for the purpose of preventing a person from arriving at the border crossing point of the Member State of destination.

According to the Schengen Borders Code[9], third country nationals must be subject, at entry, to a "thorough check", which in addition to the examination of the travel document involves verifying their purpose and length of stay and whether they possess sufficient means of subsistence, as well as a search in the Schengen Information System and in national databases to verify that they are not a threat to public policy, internal security, public health and the international relations of the Schengen States. Consequently, the checks involve a number of conditions that are verified by the border guard through questions put to the traveller. Also the validity of the travel document needs to be inspected by the border guard in each case. Checks are the same regardless of whether persons are subject to the visa requirement or not. Border guards are obliged to manually stamp – indicating the date and place of entry and exit - the travel documents of third country nationals crossing the external border.

At the consulates as well as at the borders the Schengen Information System (SIS) is consulted to verify that the person is not signalled by a Member State for the purpose of denying entry. The SIS and the future SIS II registers alerts, with respect to third country nationals, on persons to be refused entry to the Schengen area, wanted persons, and persons to be put under protection. All third country nationals entering the EU, whether under visa obligation or not, are checked systematically in the SIS.

Finally, reference should also be made to the Commission's proposal on the use of Passenger Name Records for persons arriving by air, essentially equivalent to the information contained in the flight reservation.[10] This information is also transmitted just before or in relation with boarding to law enforcement authorities. This system would apply to all Member States, as it is not linked to the Schengen cooperation as such. The transmission of PNR data takes place for the purpose of preventing terrorism and organised crime, not for border checks.

The creation of a system to register the entry/exit of third country nationals

An entry/exit system should apply to third country nationals admitted for a short stay (up to 3 months). The system should include the recording of information on the time and place of entry, the length of stay authorised, and the transmission of automated alerts directly to the competent authorities, should a person be identified as 'overstayer', both at the time this occurs and upon departure from the EU.

All third country nationals requiring visas will have to provide their biometric data when applying for a visa at a Member State's consular post for the Visa Information System, and border crossing points will be equipped with the necessary equipment to allow for the verification of the identity of the visa holder on the basis of that data. In order to take full advantage of these investments and minimize the impacts to border checks, it would be reasonable to await the complete and successful rollout of the VIS. Consequently, an EU entry/exit system for all third-country nationals admitted for a short stay could become operational by 2015.

Facilitating border crossings for bona fide travellers

For third-country nationals, the introduction of Automated Border Control systems can enable the automated verification of travellers’ identity without the intervention of border guards. A machine reads the biometric data contained in the travel documents or stored in a system or database and compares them against the biometrics of the traveller, accelerating border checks by creating automated separate lanes replacing the traditional control booths.

Persons should be granted "Registered Traveller" status after appropriate screening on the basis of common vetting criteria, including a reliable travel history (no previous overstays; data to this effect can be retrieved from the entry/exit system), proof of sufficient means of subsistence, and holding a biometric passport. During the limited validity period (for example five years or the validity of the visa) the compliance with the vetting criteria should be subject to continuous monitoring by Member States.

For EU citizens automated gates at the external borders can be introduced under the current legal framework and should be encouraged. Access to automated gates can be given to those holding a biometric passport or, as an interim measure, a specific smart card issued upon individual application under national schemes.

A European electronic travel authorisation initiative

Requiring an electronic authorisation to travel could be considered as an alternative to requiring a visa from the nationals of a third country, or be required from nationals from a third country currently not under the visa requirement. The Commission intends to launch a study to analyse the implementation of such a system in 2008.

Data protection

Systems must comply with EU data protection rules including the requirements of necessity, proportionality, purpose limitation and quality of data. Particular care must be taken to ensure full compliance with the requirements of Articles 16 and 17 of Directive 95/46/EC on confidentiality and security, as well as the requirements related to network security and confidentiality laid down by Regulation (EC) No 45/2001.

The data protection rules for the VIS and the status quo including the retention of information for only five years would seem appropriate.

The data generated by the entry/exit system should be used mainly by the competent immigration authorities. Individuals should have the right of access to information held on them and to challenge and correct this information as provided for in Community and national legislation. Provisions should be made for an appeal mechanism in cases where third country nationals are ‘forced’ to overstay.

The Registered Traveller Programme would be subject to the same requirements on data protection established by Community law. Data protection provisions including the right of access to personal information used to justify refusals of applications would be appropriate. The Registered Traveller Programme should also include a requirement that authorities provide reasons for refusal and an opportunity for applicants to appeal against refusal.

To find out more about Vice President Frattini's work please visit his website: http://www.ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/frattini/index_en.htm


[1] World Tourist Organisation (WTO): Vision 2020 Volume 4 pag.48. 'Tourism' also includes travelling for the purposes of improving one's professional qualifications and health.

[2] The figure was calculated by adding the number of trips of EU residents outside EU27 with the number of TCN travelling to EU27.

[3] The figure was calculated on the numbers of trips made into Europe by the most important countries.

[4] This estimate is consistent with that of the United Nation’s Trend and the estimates of EU25 Member States given. However, there are other estimates: 2-3 million (Global Migration Perspective 2005) and 4.5 million (IOM 2000).

[5] There are varied estimates in different national studies undertaken in the Netherlands (‘large majority’), Italy (75% in 2004 ) and UK (31% in 2002 ).

[6] Excluding the figures for Spain that are very high (600,000) due to refusals made outside of the EU at Spanish enclaves in North Africa.

[7] Regulation (EC) No 539/2001.

[8] Directive 2004/82/EC.

[9] OJ L 105 of 13.4.2006, p. 1.

[10] COM(2007) 654 final.


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