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European Visa Travel Waiver for U.S. Citizens

European Council announces security enhancements to Schengen Information System

Schengen Information SystemThe Schengen Information System (SIS) is being upgraded to increase security for Europeans and travelers to Europe and the Schengen Travel Zone. In October of 2018, The European Commission, which functions as the governing faction of the EU (European Union) agreed to measures to create a stronger Schengen Information System. The enhancements to the already-robust database will be implemented in stages and the upgrades are expected to be complete in 2021.

Historical Overview

The term “Schengen,” related to the Schengen Travel Zone, or Schengen Area, is named for the place the historic Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985, Schengen, Luxemburg. Gathered there were representatives of 5 states of the ten member states of the European Economic Community, now known as the European Union. Those five countries included Luxemburg, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. The treaty intended to abolish intercountry border controls to allow for open passage between European member states. In 1990, a convention was convened to create a single uniform visa. These aligned immigration policies and procedures laid the groundwork for what is the current iteration of SIS, Schengen Information System. Also, at the 1990 convention, The Schengen Agreement became known as The Schengen Zone.

The Schengen Travel Zone is the largest visa-free travel zone in the world

By 2011, Europe’s Schengen Travel Zone became the largest visa-free travel zone in the world. The momentous agreement was driven by the desire for open borders within The Schengen Travel Zone, opening doors for more accessible travel both for the citizens within European Union countries, and those visiting them. Presently, 26 countries and four microstates make up the Schengen Area, with 22 in Europe Union and four non-EU members: Iceland, Lichtenstein Norway, and Switzerland. Two prominent EU members, Ireland and the United Kingdom, are not part of the Schengen Zone. Also, four more European Union countries are actively pursuing inclusion into the Schengen Zone. These countries are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania.

The Schengen Information Systemhas been active since 1995 

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a comprehensive and centralized database and information sharing system developed to make Europe safer and to actively support cooperation between the external border control and enforcement agencies. Active since 1995 and shaped into its current scope in 2013, SIS is Europe’s most comprehensive and broadly implemented information sharing system utilized for border management and security. More than just a list of travelers entering the Schengen Area, SIS contains upwards up 80 million records on people and objects. The SIS database records are queried up to 5 billion times every year. Additionally, Schengen Information System Alerts enable law enforcement and border control officers to take the appropriate steps in any identified instances of the threat to security in Europe’s Schengen Travel Zone.

The approved updates to the Schengen Information System are geared to support the European Union’s objective to proactively address irregular migration, crime, human trafficking, and terrorism. New functionalities of SIS include alerts aimed at prevention of child abduction and to protect vulnerable persons at risk; news alerts about anyone suspected or wanted for acts of terrorism and other serious crimes; and time-sensitive alerts about the return (repatriation) of illegal non-Europeans to their country of origin. Additional requisites of the SIS upgrades include mandatory sharing of information between all member states regarding any attempted or known terrorist acts; as well as increased law enforcement and intelligence alliances. To that end, Interpol has added to the broad list (police, customs, migration and border authorities) of those with complete access to SIS alerts.

The initiatives of the Schengen Information System are an evolving collection of actions and information sharing designed to advance safety protocols for EU citizens and visitors. Greater reliance on the expansive online database of all travelers entering Europe’s Schengen Travel Zone is a concrete and measurable step towards a more secure Europe for all.