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What the EU's new EES passport system will mean for Switzerland

The Local Switzerland
The Local Switzerland - [email protected]
What the EU's new EES passport system will mean for Switzerland
The new EES system will mean non-EU residents need to provide biometric data such as fingerprints when entering Switzerland.

From biometric checks to the 90-day rule, residency documents and visas - here's what the EU's new EES system means for people travelling in and out of Switzerland.

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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 in the autumn 2024 (unless it's delayed again) – actually means if you are travelling in and out of Switzerland.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but it is part of the Schengen Area and will be part of the EES system, so the same travel rules apply here. In all there are 29 EU and Schengen countries which will be part of EES. Ireland and Cyprus are the only two EU member states who won't apply the new system, but their nationals will be exempt from it when travelling.

The system has been in the works since 2013 and is due to come into effect toward the end of 2024 – although as stated 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.

Where?

The EES is for the external borders of the Schengen Area – so if you are travelling within the zone, nothing will change.

But if you are entering from a non-EU country (including the UK, the US and Canada) the new system comes into play.

Who? 

It applies to all non-EU citizens and non-EFTA (Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) apart from those who have temporary or permanent residency of an EU/EFTA country. Dual nationals are also exempt if they are travelling on their EU/Swiss passport. 

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 USA, 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.

Exactly how this applies varies slightly depending on your circumstances.

READ ALSO: How will the new app for Europe's EES border system work?

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Tourists

This is the most straightforward category and the one that will apply to the majority of travellers. For non-EU/non-EFTA tourists or those coming for a short visit little will change apart from having to give fingerprints/ facial images when they first enter Switzerland.

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 Switzerland from a non-EU country, you will already know about the 90-day rule.

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

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 Schengen area is automatically logged on the system, so that border guards can see how long you have spent in the border-free zone in the preceding 180 days, and whether you have overstayed your limit. 

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Residents in Switzerland

If you are a citizen of a non-EU country but have residency in Switzerland, then you are not constrained by the 90-day rule when travelling in and out of Switzerland. Under the current system you show your visa or 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 is not clear how residency status will be linked to passports, and therefore how residents can avoid starting the 90-day ‘clock’ when they enter the EU.

The European Commission had previously told The Local that people with a visa or residency card should not use automated passport gates, but we are still attempting to get more information on this. 

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 of Switzerland, you'll 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.

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A new app

There has been much talk about the importance of a new app designed to help avoid delays.

The importance of having a working app was summed up by Uku Särekanno, Deputy Executive Director of the EU border agency Frontex in a recent interview.

“Initially, the challenge with the EES will come down to the fact that travellers arriving in Europe will have to have their biographic and biometric data registered in the system – border guards will have to register four of their fingerprints and their facial image. This process will take time, and every second really matters at border crossing points – nobody wants to be stuck in a lengthy queue after a long trip.”

But there is confusion around what the app will actually be able to do, if it will help avoid delays and importantly when will it be available.

This is what we know so far:

  • The app will not be obligatory but used on voluntary basis
  • Traveller data will be processed in compliance with the high data security and data protection standards set by EU legislation
  • It will then generate a QR code that travellers can present at border control.

More information about the app can be found here.

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