The role of biometrics in the European Entry-Exit System

The Entry-Exit System will create a foolproof border control system by registering short-stay visa holders and visa-exempt travelers when crossing an EU external border. EU-EES provides the Schengen Zone with a uniform and modern solution to reinforce security and process the increasing numbers of travelers without increasing the number of border guards. Here’s how standardized regulations will change travel to and around Europe.

Standardizing border management

Border management is a high priority for the European Union. While the EU is mainly a political and economic union, the Schengen Zone allows free movement of people between the participating countries. 

Millions of people from outside the Schengen Area, Third Country Nationals, cross the external borders every year. The number of visitors will likely increase in the upcoming years. The EU Entry-Exit System enables border agencies to access and process travelers in a centralized way. EU-EES is one of the European Agenda on Security and Migration objectives, focusing on border management, preventing crime, and fighting against terrorism.  

Standardizing checks at border control points will ensure that all countries in the Schengen Zone will vigorously follow the same safety guidelines. Both entry and exit movements of all persons who are not enjoying the European Union right to free movement (Third Country Nationals) will be registered, and corresponding (biometric) data stored in a unified automated IT system. A secure web portal will allow TCNs to check their remaining authorized length of stay. Airlines and other travel organizations will also use this function to perform checks. 

EES will reinforce the internal security of the Schengen Zone through the coordination and sharing of data. Overstayers and individuals linked to criminal activities will have more difficulty bypassing law enforcement.

EES will contribute to prevent irregular migration and help protect the security of European citizens. The new system will also help bona fide third-country nationals to travel more easily while also identifying more efficiently over-stayers as well as cases of document and identity fraud.

The European Member States will have to adapt to technical and operational requirements. Suitable equipment and a harmonized implementation are required to make the Entry-Exit System ready for operation. With natural differences across nations, a controlled framework and baseline are necessary. 

The main principles of EES

All countries within the Schengen Area need up-to-date, standardized regulations to create a safe, unified and foolproof border control process. The Schengen Area safeguards its citizens and strengthens its borders by implementing the Entry-Exit System.  

The starting points for the EU-EES system are: 
– Modernization of external border management. 
– Improving the quality and efficiency of the external border controls.
– Manage the increasing number of travelers.
– Reinforce internal security and the fight against terrorism and crime. 

The benefits for the Member States: 
– Identify overstayers.
– Prevent illegal entry.
– Combat document- and identity fraud. 

Each time a TCN crosses an EU external border, the EU-entry-exit-system (EES) digital infrastructure registers data to assess risk. The system will record the name, type of the travel document, biometric data, and the date and place of entry and exit. EES will replace some of the manual work executed by border guards while reducing the risk of counterfeit or unreadable stamps. The EES regulation does not apply to EU citizens or TCNs with a resident permit. 

The battle against illegal border crossing

By making external borders EES compliant, the EU Member States will quickly identify irregularities in migration. 
A register of cross-border movements improves the battle against illegal border crossing, human trafficking, and organized criminal activities.

EU-EES will impact on Member State- and overall European level. Existing IT systems need to be assessed, ensuring that each Member State can access the right resources. New platforms need to be developed and implemented in the new border control processes.

Leading role for biometrics

The centralized system will be managed by eu-LISA, the European agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems. The agency is responsible for developing the central system and implementing a National Uniform Interface (NUI) in each Member State.  

This NUI consists of identical interfaces for all EU countries and connects their border infrastructures to the central EES central system. A secure communication channel will connect the EES Central System, Shared Biometric Matching System, and the Visa Information System (VIS). 

EES is both complex and ambitious. It will make border crossing faster while making security checks and controls more robust. While the above systems will be centralized and supplied by eu-LISA, each Member State will be responsible for the organization, management, operation, and maintenance of its existing national border infrastructure and the connection to the central EES system. 

 

The requirements

The Member States must comply their border solutions with the regulations. A robust, easy-to-use and cost-effective method will benefit the border crossing experience and – budget. EES requires facial images of every Third Country National. The image captured must have passport quality and comply with ISO/IEC 19794-5.  

 

The Shared Biometric Matching System

The collected biometric data will be held against Europol, VIS, and Schengen Information System databases to verify the visitor’s status. This biometric information will not be stored in the EES Central System. The Shared Biometric Matching System (sBMS) will securely hold the biometric data and support travelers’ authentication and identification process.

 

Privacy by Design

Privacy is a significant priority for the EU. The data stored in the central EES system is protected against the risk of abuse. The Entry-Exit System will be built following principles of data protection by design and by default. Only specific persons within designated authorities can be granted access. Transferring data to third parties, for example, to public entities, is prohibited. Member States are responsible for capturing sensitive biometric data and transmission to eu-LISA. Data should not be stored on equipment used by travelers to avoid theft. The European Agency ensures the security of the database and lifecycle. However, Member States are responsible for ensuring compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation.

 

Who’s involved

Frontex helps harmonize border controls across the European Union. The mission of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency is to facilitate the application of existing and future European Union measures. The Agency helps drive the development of best practices, standards, and technical guides for the Member States.  

Europol will be authorized to access the system if the framework of their task allows it. The organization plays a crucial role in European and worldwide crime prevention and interacts with various law enforcement agencies.

Entry Exit System passenger flow

Who’s subject to EU-EES?

The Schengen Area guarantees border-free movement to EU citizens, non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU as tourists, exchange students, or business purposes. 

The Schengen Zone includes most EU countries except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, and Romania. Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area. Non-EU states Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, have joined. 

All Third Country Nationals will be subject to EES. Both visa-required and visa-exempt travelers to the Schengen area. Automated checks facilitate bona fide travelers at border crossings. 

From concept to execution

Access cards, PINs, or keys can be stolen or lost, while biometric identifiers such as the face, fingerprints, and iris are unique and not transferrable. Biometrics enables superior access control while giving users a smooth entry experience. 

The self-service Applicant Kiosk accurately captures documents and biometrics and takes facial images within one minute. The biometric registration terminal is designed for high-traffic locations to reduce wait times and streamline registrations. 

30 November 2017 
The Entry/Exit System got the green light on 30 November 2017, when regulation 2017/2226 was adopted and signed.  

Coastline, land borders, airports 
Europe has over 42,000 km of coastline, almost 9,000 km of land borders, and 300 international airports. 

500 million 
Europe sees around 500 million border crossings a year. 

1800+ 
The Schengen Area has more than 1,800 land, air, and sea border crossing points. 

2022 
EES is expected to come into force in the first half of 2022. 
 
176 million 
By 2025, the number of TCNs traveling to Europe will rise to 176 million. 

How to adapt to new challenges

Implementing biometric systems and adapting to the new regulations will be a challenge. Each country and border point has its specifications and needs various solutions to adapt to the environment. There are a lot of differences between air, land, and sea borders – for example, the capacity of personnel. Land border points are frequented by a variety of methods of transport. Pedestrians, cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, and trains represent different operational challenges for applying the EU-EES regulation. Seaports see a variety of vessels come through every second. A private yacht takes less processing time than a large cruise ship but requires the same attention.

The rapid growth of Third Country Nationals visiting the Schengen Area requires a human approach. Shorter lines at immigration help reduce stress and make the journey from A to B more pleasant. Therefore, the interaction at the border is crucial for a seamless and safe experience. Modernizing this process by automating checks, pre-enrollment, and self-service terminals will speed up the increasing number of passengers crossing the border and make access to the Schengen Area more welcoming. Dedicated EES Registration Kits offer a streamlined mobile registration process. The compact solution allows border agents to quickly respond to arising needs or use it at low-volume traffic places, like small airports.

Pre-enrollment

Pre-enrollment will be crucial in handling large volumes of travelers entering Europe. Travelers can complete tasks themselves at a self-service terminal. Scanning travel documents and capturing biometrics without a border guard will speed up border clearance. These terminals will be essential at sea borders. Travelers can enter or exit ports in various carriers: from private sailing boats to large cruise ships hosting a bustling crowd. 

The kiosk will capture biometrics, ensuring the quality of the data acquired and helping guide the traveler through the steps in a user-friendly environment. This will enable border guards to focus on critical security tasks such as investigating suspicious luggage. 

Monitoring and manual checks

All self-service terminals require constant monitoring. Centralized supervision permits border patrol to see what happens during biometric capture and mandatory questionnaire process. With a mobile device such as a tablet, border guards are flexible to perform further checks, detect fraud attempts or provide assistance while maintaining a steady flow in the immigration area. Manual checks with a handheld device can also be performed at a fixed station or counter.