A new Entry Exit System will revolutionize Schengen Area border control

The number of third country nationals (non-EU citizens) visiting the Schengen area each year is expected to reach 887M by 2025. As such, there is increasing pressure to make border checks when entering any of the member states faster and simpler.

The current Schengen Borders Code requires passports to be stamped with dates of entry and exit, but there is no recording of cross-border movements. This means there is no way to know if someone has exited the Schengen area if this person exits from a different country than their country of entry.

In addition to this, border guards in each country of the Schengen zone have to manually calculate whether a right to stay has been exceeded or not, using the stamps that are often poorly printed and placed randomly throughout the passport book. It’s not easy. And there is no way to check if the stamp is genuine or has not been counterfeited since there is no electronic record anywhere.

Another problem is that regular visitors and people living near borders have to replace their passports every 2 to 3 months because they run out of space for new stamps! Once you know this, it is easy to understand why border management has become a priority for the European Commission.

There is indeed much room for improvement, from a pure security standpoint as well as to ease border guards’ role of undertaking controls in a fast and reliable manner.

The European Visa Information System (VIS) has been operational since 2015 in EU Member State consulates and allows Schengen States to share visa data. For visa-holders entering the Schengen area, they must comply with its requirements – such as having their fingerprints digitally recorded.

Nevertheless, as of today, there is no central system for recording all entry and exit movements in Europe. It is time to modernize border management within the Schengen area.

Fortunately, such moves are already underway. The Large IT Systems Agency or EU-LISA will source and implement a new shared biometric system. This agency was formed in 2012 and is responsible for the operational management of existing European IT-systems EURODAC, SIS II and VIS.

The agency also acts as “one of the enablers of an integrated response to existing and emerging threats to European security” and is based in Tallinn, Estonia, whilst its operational center is in Strasbourg.

The whole idea is to create a unified information system that will record biographic and biometric data of all Nationals of non-EU countries crossing the external borders of the European Union, similarly to the Ident system the Department of Homeland Security has deployed in the USA. The use of biometric data is expected to bring strengthened security as well as allow for facilitated border management procedures.

Introducing the Entry-Exit-System EES

This new large-scale IT system, automatically monitors the border-crossing of third-country nationals (TCNs). It follows EU-Regulation 2017/2226, which has been adopted and then signed on 30 November 2017 by the European Council, and is effective since 29 December 2017.

According to this regulation, all TCNs will have to register with four fingerprints and a facial image when entering Schengen countries, whether that is by land, sea or air. The data collected will be stored in the shared register for five years.

The data in the new central register of cross-border movements will be accessible to all member states’ border and visa granting authorities and enable them to automatically check legitimate visitors and control irregular migration. If it works as intended, it should close the entry-exit loop and abolish the need for manual stamping of passports.

Besides the member states, other authorities such as Europol will also have (closely controlled) access to the data for investigation purposes, in order to ensure that cross-border movements and travel history is consulted with the strictest respect for the human dignity and integrity of each person.

In terms of timeline, the new Entry-exit System is set to be operational in 2020.  This means a lot of work ahead for EU-LISA, who is tasked to source, deploy and operate the system. Nevertheless, it also means a lot of changes and upgrades for the member states, who will have to make sure their border control processes as well as their underlying systems are compliant with the new EES regulation.

The increasing digitalization of border control

Border control has significantly evolved in Europe over the last 20 years. The introduction of electronic documents has allowed automated checks that read data stored on the chip as well as compare the chip data with the information in the Machine Readable Zone and on the data page. Identity checks have also become faster and also mobile, with the introduction of portable suitcases and tablets. Self-service has allowed for further gains in efficiency and passenger facilitation. This has been very welcome as globalization has led to far more travelers needing to be verified in a limited space and time.

With the new EES, there will be an electronic data record for each TCN traveler. This will show who is present and what this traveler’s authorized duration of stay within the Schengen area is. It will be much faster, more efficient and reliable than the manual stamping procedure currently in use to acknowledge entry and exit and verify the length of the stay.

Nevertheless, this does not come without challenges for member states border control authorities, airlines and airports. The collection of biometric data at the border points means traveler processing will require adequate equipment and will take more time. This extra time needed may end up with lengthy queues and upset travelers. Airport capacity is already stretched and will only be strained more as the number of passengers rises in the years to come.  Land and sea ports are often not well equipped to deal with extended and automated traveler data collection.

Preparing for the future

The bottom line is that member states will have to re-think their border control processes and make use of automation to optimize their processes at strategic entry and exit points.  It is now time to investigate other systems besides the ABC Gates that we already know and that have been extensively deployed in European airports.

The use of self-service kiosks for example, offers huge potential to process document authentication and collect traveler biometric data in a fast and flexible manner. Pre-check kiosks allow travelers to perform the necessary controls in a self-service manner, under border guard supervision. Kiosks are much easier to install than eGates and offer very flexible options in terms of floor space. After the pre-check phase, the final check can be expedited in a few seconds at a counter or even at a standard gate.

Manual control will need a lift in efficiency too, with optimized applications developed with the new requirements in mind. Border guards will need simple applications and user-interfaces to check the results of all the verifications performed, whatever the front-end system used by the traveler.

Besides the front-end systems and applications, which represent the visible side of things, border management work flows will have to handle this additional complexity of multiple touchpoints and extended data sets too. Border control will require platforms that are able to bring the different pieces of the new puzzle together and features such as alerts and call for actions when an event requires further attention or extended controls.

Last but not least, this is not only about IT. Security is of utmost importance in border control. Border management requires strict handling of traveler data as well as critical infrastructures, on top of a large portfolio of officer equipment and traveler facing systems. The member states managing traveler flows at entry and exit will also have to deal with a network of different systems that will need to protect the traveler data, at the moment it is collected, verified, transferred, accessed and stored.

2020 is just around the corner. It’s the right time to innovate and get ready for smarter border management, leveraging cyber security assets and knowledge of border control processes and systems. If you’d like to learn more about how Gemalto is preparing for this future, please visit our dedicated page here.

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