The European commission has confirmed that British citizens will have to pay to visit mainland Europe as soon as the EU’s free movement laws no longer apply.
A spokeswoman for Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission’s president, said visitors from post-Brexit Britain would have to fill out an online form and pay €7 (£6) for a visa waiver, which would be valid for three years.
“Yes #ETIAS will apply to the #UK as 3rd country post-Brexit – 7 euros for a 3 year pre-travel authorisation,” Natasha Berthaud tweeted. “Simple form, like #ESTAS to the US, but way cheaper.”
The EU’s European travel information and authorisation scheme (Etias) is aimed at securing Europe’s borders against people-smugglers and terrorists. It will apply from 2020 to all non-EU citizens’ entering the bloc’s border-free Schengen zone and will allow multiple trips within a three-year period.
It is not yet clear exactly what screening criteria will be used, but the details applicants supply, including past criminal convictions, will be matched against Europol databases and their eventual presence on EU and national wanted persons lists or watchlists checked before a visa waiver is granted.
The government had hoped to secure an exemption for British citizens after Brexit. It hailed the prospect of continued visa-free travel for short EU visits as one of the major achievements of the political declaration on the future relationship between Britain and the bloc.
The declaration said both sides wanted to preserve visa-free travel for short-term visits. It implied, however, that visas could be introduced for longer stays.
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Even no-deal plans released previously by the EU suggested British citizens visiting the bloc and intending to stay for less than 90 days could be exempt from the scheme, as long as the UK guaranteed the same treatment to EU nationals visiting Britain.
The no-deal plans state: “In the scenario where the UK leaves the EU without a deal, this [exemption] would apply as of 30 March 2019.”
The document stresses that any exemption would be “entirely conditional upon the UK also granting reciprocal and non-discriminatory visa-free travel for all EU member states” in the event of no deal.
However, a new commission document, the EU’s draft regulation covering visa exemptions for UK citizens, states: “Etias will apply to United Kingdom nationals once union law on free movement of union citizens ceases to apply to them, as to other visa-free third-country nationals.”
A commission source told Sky News: “Once Etias enters into operation, all visa-exempt non-EU nationals who plan to travel to the Schengen area will have to apply via Etias.”
This means that at the end of any Brexit transition period, UK citizens will have to apply for an Etias visa waiver, unless the two sides agree to extend the period – in which case the EU’s freedom of movement laws will continue to apply to the UK – or Britain decides to stay in the EU.
Modelled on the ESTA scheme in the US , visitors will be encouraged to apply for their Etias waiver online at least 72 hours before travel. They will need to provide personal information and passport details and state the first country they will visit.
Officials have said the form, which is likely to apply to 39 million visitors from outside the EU every year, will take about 10 minutes to complete, with 95% of travellers expected to get a positive answer almost instantly and all others getting a response within four weeks.
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