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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.

EXPLAINED: What the EU's new EES system means for travel to Austria
What will change when travelling to Austria? (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

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.

Where?

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.

Who? 

It applies to all non-EU citizens. Dual-nationals are exempt if they are travelling on their EU passport. 

When?

The current start date is May 2023.

What?

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. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Austria?

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.

READ ALSO: How can British second home owners spend more than 90 days in Austria?

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 borderYour 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.

Member comments

  1. What happens with “open jaw” tavel? For example I fly to Paris, France and scan my passport for entry to France. I then hire a car and travel to Venice, Italy – There is no passport control on the border between France and Italy. I then leave the car in Venice and fly back to UK, scanning my passport on exit. Do the French and Italian systems talk to each other to show that I have left the Schengen area with the 90 day limit?

  2. Nick, This is supposed to be what the system deals with, it pulls together data from the various national systems so that a full record of the stay can be completed. At present there is some sharing of data, on a recent trip I drove to Austria but went back to the UK from Munich for a couple of days and the border agent could see that I had arrived via car to France, however not all the Schengen states are fully aligned in this way. The interesting thing will be when this arrangement meets the cold light of reality, even the US system is riven with errors and inconsistencies and they dont even collect data for those departing by car across the land borders (though they get some data from reciprocal arrangements with the Mexicans and Canadians). Also the US system has done little to deal with the prime purpose of preventing overstays, no doubt the EU will be the same, it will simply punish the relatively innocent who wish to leave anyway (albeit late – as if that matters) and do nothing to deal with those who stay permanently.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Austrian railway workers set to strike after pay talks fall flat

Austria's railways are set to grind to a halt on Monday due to failed negotiations between unions and rail operators, the country's railway system (ÖBB) said on Sunday.

Austrian railway workers set to strike after pay talks fall flat

Austrian railway workers will hold a one-day strike on Monday after another round of negotiations between unions and railway representatives failed.

The fifth round of negotiations over pay rises for 50,000 employees from 65 different railway operators, including the main national operator ÖBB, had failed to come to a resolution.

Vida, the trade union that represents the workers, has asked for a wage increase of €400 – an average increase of around 12 percent.

In response, Austria’s Chamber of Commerce offered an increase of a 8 percent.

With walkouts set to go ahead, there will be no regional, long-distance or night trains on Monday.

“After more than twelve hours of intensive talks, the [two sides] unfortunately did not manage to come to an agreement,” the ÖBB said in a statement.

Cross-border traffic and night travel could be affected, and the ÖBB also warned of “individual train cancellations” on Sunday evening and even on Tuesday.

Andreas Matthä, CEO of ÖBB, said in a statement: “I cannot understand this strike at all. With an offer of 8.44 percent, the ÖBB has made the highest offer of any sector.”

“This is clearly a malicious strike on the part of the union,” he added.

Vida union negotiator Gerhard Tauchner said that they “are fighting for a sustainable cost of living adjustment… which will give relief to those with lower and middle incomes in particular in the face of skyrocketing prices.”

Austria’s year-on-year inflation rate hit 11 percent in October. 

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