The Schengen Zone is made up of 22 EU countries and the 4 non-EU countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, between which visa-free travel is permitted. By the end of 2022, citizens from previously visa-exempt countries will be required to apply for the electronic ETIAS visa waiver to travel to any of the Schengen member countries.
This new European travel and information authorisation system will require travellers to pre-register their details prior to entering Europe for short stays, allowing any security threats or dangerous individuals to be identified beforehand. The ETIAS visa waiver is primarily being introduced to strengthen the external borders of the Schengen Zone, which are further protected by three security mechanisms: SIS, VIS, and EURODAC.
What are the Schengen Zone security systems?
The three Schengen Zone security systems are managed by the eu-LISA, the European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice.
The eu-LISA manages the systems responsible for maintaining internal security in the Schengen Zone and the exchange of visa data between its members, and will also be responsible for the ETIAS visa waiver once implemented.
Although ETIAS and the Schengen Zone will allow free movement between member states, external border security remains a concern. The three Schengen Zone security systems of SIS, VIS, and EURODAC will work together with the ETIAS visa waiver to minimise the risks. It is also important to understand that ETIAS is not and will not operate as a visa, but as a visa waiver, which is a key distinction.
When completing an ETIAS application online, travellers will be required to answer some questions related to health and security, as well provide a range of personal and passport information that will then be pre-screened against SIS, VIS, and EURODAC to identify any public safety risks.
Schengen Information System (SIS)
The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a supporting mechanism that aims to maintain internal security in the Schengen Zone.
The principal functions of SIS are:
- To enable border control collaboration
- To support law enforcement collaboration
- To increase vehicle registration collaboration
SIS allows member states to share information about suspected criminals, third-country visitors who may have entered the Schengen Zone without permission, missing people, or stolen, lost, or misappropriated assets.
Once the Schengen visa waiver is introduced, ETIAS applicants will have their data checked against this security system before travel is approved.
Visa Information System (VIS)
The Schengen Visa Information System (VIS) is a Schengen Zone security system that allows information for short stay visa applications to be shared between member countries and consulates in non-EU countries, supporting the common EU visa policy.
SIS uses biometric data to confirm the identity of a Schengen visa holder, allowing for more efficient border control and will be one of the key systems supporting the ETIAS visa waiver system once it is implemented.
The primary functions of VIS are:
- To fight abuse: VIS combats illegal activities such as ‘visa shopping’– wherein applicants refused entry to one Schengen country gain access to the Zone through another member state
- To protect travellers: VIS allows officials to easily identify any cases of identity theft for the purpose of crossing Schengen borders
- To help with asylum applications: VIS examines applications for asylum and makes it easier to determine which EU states are responsible for processing individual applications
- To enhance security: VIS supports the prevention, detection, and investigation of terrorist offences and other serious criminal offences.
SIS complies traveller data, including fingerprint scans and a digital photograph of visa applicants, into a central database. Those who frequently travel to the Schengen Zone are not required to provide fingerprint scans every time they apply for a new Schengen visa.
European Dactyloscopy (EURODAC)
EURODAC is another key component of the Schengen Zone security system, a fingerprint database for the identification of asylum-seekers and those who cross external Schengen and EU borders illegally.
The mechanism functions by comparing fingerprint datasets and allows instant recognition of an applicant’s fingerprints every time they apply for asylum anywhere in the EU. EURODAC examines asylum requests using fingerprint comparison in order to determine which EU country has responsibility for examining the applications.
Together, these three mechanisms form the security system in the Schengen Zone and work to secure the external borders of the area. Once ETIAS is implemented, these systems will work alongside the travel authorisation to further reduce public safety risks in Europe.