British travellers to the European Union will not need a £6 “eurovisa” until 2024 at the earliest.
Prospective visitors to the EU from the UK and elsewhere are now told: “It is expected that the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias) will be operational in 2024.”
The Etias is broadly modelled on the US Esta scheme, with prospective visitors from outside the EU being obliged to register online and make payment before they can visit the European Union and wider Schegen area.
The fee will be €7 (£6) for a permit valid for up to three years.
Etias has been planned since 2016; the UK was involved early on in the project while still an EU member.
The European Union claims it will be a “simple, fast and visitor-friendly system” that will “save travellers time and hassle”.
Brussels insists “Etias authorisation is not a visa”. But Tim Reardon, head of EU Exit for the Dover Harbour Board, told a House of Lords committee: “It is not called a visa and it has a different status in law, but the practical effect is the same.”
Under the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the UK government negotiated for British citizens to be subject to the Etias rules.
Etias was due to begin in 2021, but has been repeatedly postponed. In order to work it relies on another EU borders initiative, the Entry Exit System (EES) to be functioning. This requires every “third-country national,” as UK travellers to Europe will be, to have fingerprints and facial biometrics checked on arrival and departure.
But because the UK chose to leave the European Union, the number of travellers using the Entry Exit System will be much higher than originally envisaged.
The Slovenian government, which has tested the system, reported: “It was found that it takes up to four times longer to do the new process – border check + enrolment + verification.”
Austria’s authorities said: “We expect process times to double compared to the current situation.”
In July 2022, long queues built up at Dover and Folkestone, where the UK chose to establish a hard EU border.
At present the EES is due to be brought in by November 2023, but it may also be postponed again.
The Independent has asked the European Commission for comment.
The further delay has been welcomed by Eurotunnel, which has repeatedly voiced concerns about implementation of the EES in a constrained setting that was never designed for the possibilty the UK might leave the EU.
John Keefe, chief corporate and public affairs officer, told The Independent: “As a concept, EES/Etias is a step closer to the smart, digital border that we would all like to see operating in the future.
“But it is important that when it is introduced it is fully functional, has been thoroughly tested and that the introduction is progressive to allow both operators and travellers to familiarise themselves with the new requirements.”
British travellers have also been warned about scam sites attempting to cash in on the new Etias requirements.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies