EXPLAINED: What the EU's new EES system means for travel to Austria
From biometric checks to the 90-day rule and visas - the European Commission has explained to The Local what the EU's new EES system means for people travelling in and out of Austria.
You might have seen some rather dramatic headlines about the EU 'harvesting biometric data' - so here's what the EU's new Entry and Exit System (EES) - due to come into effect next year - actually means if you are travelling in and out of Austria.
The system has been in the works since 2013 and is due to come into effect in May 2023 - although it has been postponed several times before.
It has four stated aims - to improve and modernise border systems; to reinforce security and aid the fight against crime and terrorism; to help EU member states deal with increasing traveller numbers without having to increase the numbers of border staff; and to systematically identify over stayers within the Schengen area [ie people who have stayed longer than their visa or 90-day limit allowance].
The system doesn't actually change any of the EU's rules about travel, length of stay etc, but it will make enforcing them easier.
EES is different to ETIAS, which is due to come into effect later in 2023. That won't affect residents, but will require tourists and those on a short visit to pay €7 for a holiday visa - full details on that HERE.
The EES is for EU external borders - so if you are travelling between Austria and Germany nothing will change but if you are entering Austria from a non-EU country (including the UK) the new system comes into play.
It applies to all non-EU citizens. Dual-nationals are exempt if they are travelling on their EU passport.
The current start date is May 2023.
Basically the EES changes how passports are checked at the border.
The first change is the addition of biometric data - in addition to the current details in your passport (name, DOB etc) the system will also record facial images and fingerprints of all passengers - so it will be similar to going to the US, where foreign arrivals already have to provide fingerprints.
The second change is through recording onto the system complete details of entry and exit dates; how much of their 90-day limit (if applicable) people have used and whether they have previously been refused entry (see below for full details on the 90 day rules).
Exactly how this applies varies slightly depending on your circumstances.
Tourists - this is the most straightforward category and the one that will apply to the majority of travellers. For tourists or those coming for a short visit little will change apart from having to give fingerprints when they enter. They will also be told how long they can stay in the Schengen area - for visitors from non-Schengen-visa countries like the UK, USA, Canada and Australia this will be 90 days, easily long enough for most holidaymakers.
Second-home owners and other regular visitors without a visa - if you're a regular visitor to Austria from a non-EU country you will already know about the 90-day rule - find a full explanation HERE.
The rule itself doesn't change, but one of the stated aims of the new system is to catch overstayers, so anyone hoping to 'slip under the radar' with regards to the 90-day limit should forget that idea.
Instead of the current and rather inconsistent system of passport-stamping, each entry and exit to the EU is automatically logged on the system, so that border guards can see how long you have spent in the Schengen area in the preceding 180 days, and whether you have overstayed your limit.
Residents in Austria - if you are a citizen of a non-EU country but have residency in Austria then you are not constrained by the 90-day rule. Under the current system you show your visa or permit at the border and the border official should refrain from stamping your passport.
The automated system does away with passport stamping - which has become a headache for residents since it is inconsistently applied in some countries.
However at this stage it appears that there is no way to link a visa or residency card to a passport for automatic scanning.
The European Commission told The Local: "Non-EU nationals holders of residence permits are not in the scope of the Entry/Exit System and ETIAS. When crossing the borders, holders of EU residence permits should be able to present to the border authorities their valid travel documents and residence permits."
The Local France also asked the French Interior Ministry - who are in charge of operating border controls in France - and they told us: "EES only concerns non-European nationals, without a long-stay visa or residence permit, who are making private or tourist visits for periods of less than 90 days".
In other words - EES does not concern people who are residents in an EU country or have a long-stay visa.
What this means in practice is that people with a visa or residency permit cannot use the automated passport gates, and must instead go to a manned booth so that they can show both their passport and residency card/visa. This is likely to mean extra waiting times at busy periods.
Second-home owners and frequent visitors with a visa - As with residents, anyone who has a visa must show it at the border in order to avoid starting the 90-day clock, and that means that visa holders cannot use the automated passport gates - as outlined above.
The Commison spokesman said: "If you are a non-EU national travelling for a short stay (maximum 90 days in any 180-day period) to a European country using the EES and if you hold a valid visa for your intended purpose of stay then you should present the valid passport and valid visa when crossing the border. Your stay is limited to the number of days authorised by your short stay visa."
So how will this actually work in practice?
If you're a tourist or short-stay visitor and you're travelling by air you probably won't notice much difference since many airports already have automated passport gates in place for certain travellers. In fact, the Commission says this system will be faster than the current system in place for non-EU arrivals.
If you are a resident, you need to remember to avoid the automated passport gates and choose a manned booth so that you can show your residency card or visa along with your passport.
The Commision told us: "Non-EU citizens residing in the EU are not in the scope of the EES and will not be subject to pre-enrollment of data in the EES via self-service systems. The use of automation remains under the responsibility of the Member States and its availability in border crossing points is not mandatory."
However things are less clear for people travelling by car - though the control should be made at a Schengen border, not in Austria.
The EES system would require all passengers to get out of the car and have their passports and faces scanned, and scan fingerprints, which would obviously take longer.
It could make popular trips south (with drivers going through Schengen border controls in the Slovenia-Croatian border) more complicate.
The Commission confirmed that decisions on installing new automated systems at the border is a decision for each Member State - so Slovenia, for example, will have the final say on new arrangements at its border with Croatia.
Further details on EES can be found here.