EU calls for electronic visas

EU calls for electronic visas

Widespread use of biometric identifiers will curb illegal immigration and improve security

The European Union (EU) is calling for an electronic system for visas to the US.

European Commission vice president Franco Frattini said today that Europe needs a new approach to managing its borders to curb illegal immigration and asylum seeking, and improve the processing speed of legal travellers.

The EU is to talk with the US this week on the issue of visa-free travel between the regions which would be enabled by an electronic system of travelling authorisation (Esta).

"We consider visas to be outdated instruments in a globalised world with increased mobility where we are facing new security challenges, but also have the potential to use the most modern technology," said Frattini.

Esta would work by allowing people exempted from visa obligations to log on to a web site and receive a travellers' code. The same number will then be given to the border guards at the country of destination.

Frattini also defended the use of biometric identifiers to tighten checks at the EU's external borders.

Eurodac -an EU biometric database of asylum and immigration applicants – prevents asylum seekers applying multiple times to multiple countries, said Frattini.

"National authorities now have more time to focus on the merits of asylum requests without wasting time on examining false asylum applications," he said.

Frattini also advocated the use of an "entry-exit system" which would register the dates and places of entry and exit of foreign nationals admitted to the Schengen area – which is, broadly speaking, mainland Europe.

The police will be equipped with a biometric fingerprint reader to identify whether a person has exceeded the duration of their stay – one of the primary causes of illegal immigration.

And countries supplying workers to the EU should start rolling out biometric passports, said Frattini.

"To make it easier for their own citizens to travel, third countries engaged in visa negotiations with Europe need to start the rollout of biometric passports to signal their political will to co-operate and to strengthen the link between identity documents and their holders," he said.

For the new border controls to work properly, all systems must be interoperable.

"Interoperability, connectivity and synergy between different systems and databases is vital to providing national authorities with the information they need to discharge their institutional duties," said Frattini.