EU plans online screening for visa-free travelers

EU plans online screening for visa-free travelers

Millions of tourists and business people visiting Europe will have to complete a 5 euro ($5.35) online security check before arrival if an EU plan to tighten controls on foreigners who do not need visas wins approval.

The system, which the bloc's executive European Commission is expected to back on Wednesday, would check people's identity documents and residence details against a variety of EU security and crime databases.

Following Islamic State attacks in France and Belgium and the chaotic mass arrival of migrants and refugees in Greece, the executive hopes screening can close loopholes at its borders for violent militants, criminals and would-be illegal immigrants.

It would affect citizens of around 60 countries who can visit Europe's Schengen area for short trips without first applying for a visa, including Americans, Japanese and -depending on what arrangements London negotiates for leaving the EU – potentially Britons too.

The scheme, to be sent for approval to governments and the European Parliament, is intended to be self-financing through the application fee. The Commission estimates its set-up costs at around 200 million euros and annual running costs at 85 million.

It would also address European concerns over plans to expand visa-free travel in the coming years to two big neighbors, Turkey and Ukraine, and would apply immediately to people from non-EU states in the Balkans such as Albania and Serbia.

Known as ETIAS and similar to the US ESTA system, the scheme would within minutes give most people a five-year clearance for multiple trips. EU officials hope it could be up and running after legislative approval by early next decade.

The US ESTA, valid for two years, costs $14, while Canada's similar eTA, valid for five years, costs C$7 ($5.21). Japan does not charge a fee for visitors from visa-waiver countries. [Reuters]

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