EU plans online screening for visa-free travelers
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European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - 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, put forward by the executive European Commission on Wednesday, would check 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.
Named ETIAS, it would also address European concerns over plans to expand visa-free travel 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.
"Securing our borders and protecting our citizens is our first priority. ETIAS will close an information gap by cross-checking visa-exempt applicants' information against all our other systems," the Commission's deputy head, First Vice President Frans Timmermans, said. "At the same time, the future ETIAS will be easy, quick, cheap and effective."
Similar to the U.S. ESTA system, 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 now needs approval from governments and the European Parliament. It is intended to be self-financing through the application fee. The Commission estimates set-up costs at around 200 million euros and annual running costs at 85 million.
The aim is to give most people, within minutes of going online, clearance for any number of trips over five years, though it could be canceled at any time if there is cause for concern. Those refused can appeal. EU officials hope it could be up and running after legislative approval by early next decade.
The U.S. ESTA, valid for two years, costs $14, while Canada's similar eTA, valid for five years, costs C$7 ($5.21).
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald)
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