Documents considered by the Committee on 11 July 2018 Contents

7Upgrading the EU Visa Information System

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Regulation amending the Visa Information System and related measures

Legal base

Articles 16(2), 77(2)(a), (b), (d) and (e), 78(2)(d), (e) and (g), 79(2)(c) and (d), 87(2)(a) and 88(2)(a) TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Home Office

Document Number

(39714), 8853/18 + ADDs 1–3, COM(18) 302

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

7.1The Visa Information System (“VIS”) is a Schengen-wide database containing information on third country nationals applying for short-stay Schengen visas.49 It contains details of over 55 million visa applications and nearly 47 million fingerprints.50 VIS enables visa issuing authorities in the consulates of Member States around the world to share information on visa applicants and connects them with border control officials at the EU’s external borders. The collection and storage of biometric information — a facial image and fingerprints — makes it easier to verify the identity of visa applicants, prevent fraud and carry out security checks.

7.2The Commission considers that VIS should be upgraded so that it operates as a more effective tool for preventing irregular migration and strengthening security within the border-free Schengen area. Its proposed amending Regulation would:

7.3The Commission considers that these changes will remove “blind spots” and close information gaps, ensuring that visa-issuing, border control and law enforcement authorities have they information they need to act on security risks without hindering legitimate travel to the EU. The multiple legal bases cited in the proposed Regulation reflect the breadth of its objectives as a tool for implementing the EU’s common visa policy, supporting EU asylum and return procedures, identifying victims of human trafficking, strengthening internal security, and ensuring that personal data are protected.

7.4If the proposed Regulation is agreed before next year’s European Parliament elections, the Commission anticipates that it would take effect by the end of 2021. The bulk of funding (estimated at around €182 million) needed to implement the changes envisaged would come from the next (post-2020) EU budget.

7.5The UK is not entitled to participate in VIS or in the proposed amending Regulation as it builds on parts of the Schengen rule book on a common visa policy and on external border control in which the UK does not take part. This has little consequence for UK nationals while the UK remains an EU Member State or during a post-exit transition/implementation period in which EU rules on free movement continue to apply. The immigration rules that will apply to UK nationals travelling to the EU after the end of the transition/implementation period (expected to be 31 December 2020) will form part of wider negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The EU’s common visa policy operates on the basis of reciprocity, meaning that the EU is unlikely to introduce a visa requirement for UK travellers to the EU unless the UK does so for EU citizens. The Government has not yet published its Immigration White Paper which will contain policy options on the future immigration status of EU citizens who are not protected by the provisions on citizens’ rights in the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement. Given this uncertainty, we cannot exclude the possibility that changes to VIS may affect UK nationals post-exit.

7.6Changes to VIS may also have implications for UK law enforcement authorities. Although the UK has no direct access to information held in VIS, UK law enforcement authorities are nonetheless able to request indirect access to VIS data by routing a request through VIS-participating Member States.52 It is not clear whether they will be able to do so post-exit and post-transition.

7.7In her Explanatory Memorandum of 8 June 2018, the Immigration Minister (Caroline Nokes) says that the proposed Regulation has no direct legal, financial or policy implications as the UK does not participate in the immigration and border aspects of the Schengen rule book and does not have access to VIS.

Our Conclusions

7.8We ask the Minister when the Government intends to publish its Immigration White Paper and whether the policy options considered are likely to include the possible introduction of visa requirements for EU citizens travelling to the UK after the end of the post-exit transition/implementation period (except those protected by the citizens’ rights provisions of the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement).

7.9We would like to hear whether the Government has sought (or intends to seek) an assurance that the EU will not introduce visa requirements for UK nationals. Is it the Minister’s expectation that the EU would only do so if the UK were to introduce visa requirements for EU citizens?

7.10Given the current uncertainty, we ask the Minister to explain what assessment the Government has made of the potential impact of the proposed changes to VIS:

7.11Whilst the UK will have limited influence and no vote on the proposed Regulation within the EU Council, we consider that it raises potentially important questions in the context of Brexit which we wish to scrutinise further. We are therefore retaining the proposal under scrutiny and ask the Minister to update us on developments.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 767/2008, Regulation (EC) No 810/2009, Regulation (EU) 2017/2226, Regulation (EU) 2016/399, Regulation XX/2018 [Interoperability Regulation], and Decision 2004/512/EC and repealing Council Decision 2008/633/JHA: (39714), 8853/18 + ADDs 1–3, COM(18) 302.

Background

7.12The Visa Information System is one of six existing or planned centralised EU migration and security information systems.53 The Commission intends to make these systems interoperable so that the authorities entitled to access each one can do so simultaneously, in a single search through the European Search Portal. The operational management of these systems is entrusted to eu-LISA, an EU agency established in 2012 to oversee large-scale EU justice and home affairs information systems. The table shows which of these information systems are open to UK participation.

Existing information systems managed by eu-LISA

Schengen or non-Schengen

UK position

Visa Information System — VIS

Schengen

UK excluded

Schengen Information System — SIS II (border control component)

Schengen

UK excluded

Schengen Information System — SIS II (police cooperation)

Schengen

UK participates in existing SIS II and is also participating in the Commission’s proposal to strengthen the law enforcement component of SIS II

Eurodac

Non-Schengen

UK participates in the existing Eurodac database. The UK has opted into the Commission’s proposal to expand its scope

New information systems to be managed by eu-LISA

Schengen or non-Schengen

UK position

EU Entry/Exit System — EES

Schengen

UK excluded

European Travel Information and Authorisation System — ETIAS

Schengen

UK excluded

European Criminal Records Information System — extension to third country nationals (ECRIS-TCN)

Non-Schengen

UK participates in ECRIS and has opted into a supplementary proposal creating a central database containing the criminal records of third country national offenders in the EU

7.13The proposed Regulation would repeal a 2008 Decision on law enforcement access to VIS and amend the following measures in which the UK does not participate:

7.14It would amend one new measure (still under negotiation) in which the UK has chosen to participate — a proposed Regulation establishing a framework for interoperable EU migration and security databases.54

Previous Committee Reports

None on this document.


49 Short-stay visas entitle the holder to enter and move around the border-free Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period.

50 As of May 2018. See the European Commission’s press release and fact sheets on VIS and on EU information systems issued in May 2018.

51 These documents are similar to short-stay visas in that they entitle their holder to move freely within the border-free Schengen area for 90 days in any 180-day period.

52 See recital (15) of Council Decision 2008/633/JHA on law enforcement access to VIS data. The proposed Regulation would incorporate the main provisions of this Decision and repeal it.

54 See our Sixteenth Report HC 301–xvi (2017–19), chapter 9 (28 February 2018).




Published: 17 July 2018