Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Getting to grips with Europe’s increasingly digitalised borders

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Andreia Ghimis and Jen Fackelman

Andreia Ghimis of Fragomen (left) and Nomadic’s Jen Fackelman (right)

In an environment of increased process digitalisation, which includes the introduction of technology and tools for the management of international borders, it is critical for those in the business travel and international global mobility sectors to adapt their processes to stay on top. BTN Europe speaks to Nomadic’s Jen Fackelman & Andreia Ghimis of Fragomen Consulting Europe who look at imminent border management changes and the opportunities offered by technology to comply.

BTN Europe: Give us a little background on recent or imminent changes in the way European borders are being managed.

Jen Fackelman: Several ‘technology first’ solutions for the management of external borders have recently been proposed in Europe. Border management of the Schengen Area is expected to become much more sophisticated with the introduction of the Entry-Exit System (EES), expected in Q4 of this year; ETIAS, the pre-travel authorisation for visa-exempt citizens, is expected in Q2 2025; and the digitalisation of the short-stay Schengen C visa application process is intended to be operational in 2028. In addition, the UK has begun rolling out its Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme – similar to the EU’s ETIAS initiative – to visitors from selected nations.

BTN Europe: What will the introduction of the Entry-Exit System (EES) mean for business travellers?

Jen Fackelman: The digitalisation of Europe’s borders will bring the introduction of interconnected eGates at external borders to the Schengen Area. These gates are expected to be inter-operational, with all digital systems to help border agents flag security and compliance risks for those entering and exiting.

The system will also flag individuals believed to pose a security risk, missing persons, stolen passports and wanted persons. In addition, the EES will replace the existing manual stamping system by collecting an individual’s data electronically, automatically recording entry and exit dates for each short-term traveller to the Schengen Area.

BTN Europe: What challenges will this bring?

Andreia Ghimis: Changes within the regulatory landscape around digital border management are likely to increase compliance challenges for both business and leisure travellers, as authorities will be equipped with more tools to enforce short-term travel requirements and detect violations.

For those travelling through the visa-free regime, including nationals of Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, the allowance will be for 90 out of 180 days. For those travelling on a C visa, days spent within the Schengen Area will be tracked against the validity of the traveller’s visa.

BTN Europe: What are the parameters of business travel compliance?

Jen Fackelman: The period of time visitors are permitted to stay within the Schengen Area is just one of the considerations that need to be taken into account when determining whether a business trip is compliant with regulations. The activities that visitors intend to conduct while in the Area also need to be assessed against allowable business visitor activities.

Schengen countries have different interpretations of what allowable business visitor activities are and may require work authorisations for activities they consider as productive work – even if these are limited to a few days. Therefore, travellers need to understand and be able to effectively communicate their intentions for their stay when crossing European borders – and ideally also have documents to support their visit – if questioned by border authorities.

Once within their host country, continued compliance is important. Coherence in the data shared with the various national authorities is crucial. Social security, immigration and posted worker enforcement authorities may soon have access to the same databases. Incoherences and non-compliance will likely be spotted in the event of labour inspections taking place at the work sites they will be visiting in their destination country or countries.

BTN Europe: What are the likely consequences of non-compliance?

Andreia Ghimis: Overstaying in the Schengen Area can result in financial penalties, bans (which will impact an individual’s ability to travel in future to the Schengen Area on business or leisure travel), and possible deportation. Such penalties have the potential to cause a lasting impact on the opportunities of travellers.

BTN Europe: What steps should those in the travel and global mobility sectors take now?

Andreia Ghimis: The complexities of today’s increasingly digitalised world create an ever-changing landscape of regulation to be navigated by those of us in the industry. Within this environment of increased process digitalisation – including the introduction of technology and tools for the management of borders – it is important for those in the business travel and international global mobility sectors to adapt our processes as well. We need to keep business moving but in a way that limits risks by avoiding compliance breaches and ensuring that we maintain our duty of care obligations to our travellers.

The solution to these complexities is also a ‘technology first’ approach, integrating pre-travel assessment tools into the ecosystem of tech-based solutions that are available on the market. Old orthodoxies are no longer sufficient for managing international travel programmes.

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