Step three: At the border

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Once an individual arrives at the border – whether that be in France, Spain, Sweden, Poland or any other Schengen state – their personal data will begin another journey around the EU’s digital circuits of security. Everyone crossing the external borders of the Schengen area is supposed to be checked against the Schengen Information System, as well as national and Interpol databases of lost and stolen travel documents. As of March 2017, EU citizens are also supposed to be subject to such checks, indicating that EU citizenship is no guarantee against being considered inherently suspicious.[1]

There are other checks – visa holders will have their identity checked against the VIS, and travel authorisation holders against the ETIAS. Travel authorisation holders will have four fingerprints and a photograph taken upon arrival at the border, for inclusion in the Entry/Exit System database, whereas visa holders will already have had 10 fingerprints and a photo taken as part of the visa application process.

Both categories of traveller will have their border crossing registered in the Entry/Exit System (EES), when that system comes into use, which is currently planned for the end of 2021. The EES will be used for the biometric registration of all border crossings in an individual file, and to see whether non-EU citizens entering the Schengen area have previously stayed longer than permitted. If so, they may be subject to refusal of entry and their data will be held in the EES for three years. Under legislation approved in late 2019, officials from the Frontex ‘standing corps’ of border guards, as well as national officials, can be made responsible for carrying out border checks and refusing or granting entry.[2]

More traditional methods of inquiry can also be used. For example, border guards are supposed to verify an individual’s point of departure and destination, the purpose of their journey and whether they have means of subsistence for their intended trip. An individual’s documentation and baggage may be inspected for these purposes, as well as to ensure that they are not a potential danger to public security.[3]

Travel authorisation holders may also be marked for closer inspection. “In cases where there is doubt as to whether sufficient reasons to refuse the travel authorisation exist,” national officials responsible for examining applications can add a ‘flag’ to a file.[4] A border guard checking their identity against the ETIAS database at the border will see this flag and should then call them aside for further questioning. These flags may be added to individuals’ files because the profiling system has identified them as a potential ‘risk’, leading to the possibility of unwarranted or discriminatory interviews or searches.

Previous section: Step two: The journey | Next section: Step four: In the Schegen area


[1] Council of the EU, ‘Schengen borders code: Council adopts regulation to reinforce checks at external borders’, 7 March 2017,

[2] Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 November 2019 on the European Border and Coast Guard,

[3] Article 8(3), Regulation (EU) 2016/399 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2016 on a Union Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code) (codification),

[4] Article 36(2), Regulation (EU) 2018/1240,


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