Smart Borders

Smart Borders is a general term for two information systems for managing the external borders of Schengen: the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the National Facilitation Programme (NFP) for registered frequent travellers. The aim of the European Commission’s Smart Borders programme is to modernise border control, improve security within the Schengen area, facilitate entry to and exit from the Schengen area for certain groups of people, and increase the efficiency of border checks by automating numerous border control procedures to cope with the ever rising number of travelers.  

The EES registers all third-country nationals entering and leaving the Schengen Area, and automatically calculates their duration of stay. It will replace the current manual practice of stamping passports. Not only will the EES facilitate the detection of irregular migration by exposing people who overstay the authorised duration of stay, it will also help the authorities when carrying out checks inside the Schengen area to identify with greater accuracy people travelling without identity documents using biometric indicators such as facial image and four fingerprints.

The NFP is aimed at third-state nationals who travel frequently (e.g. business people, artists, athletes, students, third-state nationals with relatives in the Schengen states, etc.). On successful completion of a security check, the person is granted the status of ‘registered traveller’ and benefits from facilitated and accelerated travel over borders, for example by using e-gates. In contrast to EES, NFP implementation by the Schengen states is optional.

Progress of work at EU level

Following adoption of the EES directive and the necessary amendment of the Schengen Border Code by the European Parliament in December 2017, the EU IT agency, eu-LISA, began work to develop and implement a central EES system. The system is expected to go into operation throughout the Schengen area in fall 2021.

Progress of work in Switzerland

Switzerland was notified of this further development of Schengen on 17 January 2018 and has two years to implement it in legislative form. On 21 November 2018, the Federal Council adopted the dispatch on implementing the Smart Borders bill and forwarded it to Parliament.

With regard to technical and organisational implementation, the SEM launched the national ‘Smart Borders’ project in September 2016. Two project studies on EES and NFP involving federal and cantonal stakeholders were subsequently carried out. After successful completion of the mandatory assessment for large-scale ICT projects by the Federal IT Steering Unit, the project was given clearance in June 2018. Work on implementing NFP has been suspended following the NFP survey results and stakeholder feedback.

Implementing EES in Switzerland will require amendments to laws and ordinances, and alterations to border control infrastructure. With regard to the infrastructure at the borders, Switzerland will have to introduce an appropriate IT system and link up to the central EES database. In addition, the border control authorities, together with the airport operators, will have to consider installing e-gates and/or self-service kiosks, at least at the larger airports.

The SEM is actively involved at EU level in the implementation of the Smart Borders project through the working groups of the European Commission and the IT agency, eu-LISA.

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