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European Union: New Rules Proposed to Improve Border Control and Facilitate Entry of Frequent Travelers

(Mar. 11, 2013)

On February 28, 2013, the European Commission put forward two proposals to introduce two major innovations in the European Union’s border control system. The first is the establishment of an Entry/Exit System (EES) to create a centralized, digital method for the registration of entry and exit data of third-country nationals crossing the external borders of EU Members for a short stay within the EU. (Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council Establishing an Entry/Exit System (EES) to Register Entry and Exit Data of Third Country Nationals Crossing the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, COM(2013) 95 final (Feb. 28, 2013), EUROPA.)

The purpose of the proposed EES is to combat the phenomenon of illegal immigration and to strengthen the management and protection of the external borders of the Schengen area. The Schengen area is composed of the territories of 26 countries, four of which are not EU Members (<?Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, joining the Schengen area in 2008, and Liechtenstein, joining in 2011, through the signing of association agreements). Ireland and the United Kingdom have opted out of the Schengen area. (European Commission, Home Affairs, Schengen Area (last updated Dec. 19, 2012).)

All Schengen countries have abolished internal border controls. Internal borders are defined as the common land borders, including lake and river borders, airports, and ports for internal flights and boat connections. External borders are defined in the negative and include those borders of Schengen countries that are not internal. Crossing of external borders is possible only through the crossing points designated by the Schengen area countries. Third country nationals who enter or exit the Schengen area are subject to a thorough check of their documents. On the other hand, EU citizens, those from the European Economic Area, and those from Switzerland are subject to only a minimal check for identity purposes. (Id.)

The second innovation is to establish a Registered Traveler Program (RTP) to facilitate border crossing for those frequent travelers from third-countries who have already been screened. (Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council Establishing a Registered Traveller Program, COM(2013)97 final (Feb. 28, 2013), EUROPA.)


Currently, at the EU level, there is no method to calculate the number of “irregular” immigrants (those staying illegally), the majority of whom have overstayed their visas. According to estimates provided by the Commission, irregular immigrants number from 1.9 to 3.8 million. In 2010, the Commission reported that only 505,220 irregular immigrants were caught for visa violations. The travel documents of such individuals are stamped by border guards at the entry and exit points of the Schengen area. However, stamping in itself is not a sufficient tool to detect those who overstay their visas. (COM(2013) 95, supra at 2.)

The proposal lays down rules for the technical infrastructure of the system and its operation and use. It also defines the categories of data to be entered, the purpose for which they are entered, criteria for entering the data, as well as which authorities will have access to the system. The EES’s key objective is to enhance border control and to prevent illegal immigration. More importantly, it will enable national authorities to identify a person who no longer fulfills the criteria for a stay in the territory of an EU Member State. (Id. at 11.)


Under the proposed new system for frequent travelers to the EU, a third-country national may apply for access to the RTP at the local consulate of any Schengen country. The applicant must be at least 12 years old and must meet additional criteria, including the possession of a valid travel document; provide four sets of fingerprints and other supporting documentation; and pay the required fee of €20 (about US$26). Those admitted access will be given a token containing all the required information for passage through automatic doors at border entry/exit points. The token will be valid for five years. This measure is expected to facilitate the flow at the cross-border checkpoints of the Schengen area. (COM(2013) 97, supra.)