British visitors to the European Union will not need an online “eurovisa” until 2025 at the earliest.
The Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias), which will require citizens of the UK and other “third countries” to register ahead of travel to the EU, is running years behind schedule.
The European Council’s Justice and Home Affairs Council, which is meeting in Brussels, has now also endorsed a new timeline for the roll-out of the Entry/Exit System – the EU database that will replace manual passport stamping with electronic registration.
The council said in a statement: “The new roadmap for the delivery of the new IT architecture foresees that the Entry/Exit System will be ready to enter into operation in autumn 2024.” It was originally expected to take effect in 2021.
Once in operation, the Entry/Exit System will require British travellers to have their fingerprints and a facial biometric taken. The procedure is likely to extend processing times significantly. The Slovenian government has warned: “It takes up to four times longer to do the new process.”
There is still uncertainty about how the necessary biometrics will be obtained at hard EU frontiers in the UK, such as the Port of Dover and the LeShuttle Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.
Etias depends on the Entry/Exit System to be functioning. The council said “Etias will be ready to enter into operation in spring 2025.”
It is likely that there will be a “soft launch” of Etias, with the system becoming mandatory only six months later. If that is the case, British travellers to the EU will not need to invest in an Etias for another two years.
Etias will cover the Schengen Area, which includes almost all European Union nations (but not Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland or Romania), plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
It will apply for the nationals of dozens of countries for which a full Schengen Area visa is not required, including Tonga, Venezuela and the United Kingdom.
Currently the fee is set at €7 (£6) for a permit that will be valid for up to three years.
Etias will not be necessary for British citizens travelling to Ireland. They are allowed unlimited free movement under the Common Travel Agreement, which pre-dates and transcends European Union rules.