Documents considered by the Committee on 12 September 2018 Contents

23Upgrading 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

23.1The European Commission has proposed a Regulation to amend various EU measures concerned with the operation of the Visa Information System (“VIS”)—a Schengen-wide database containing information on third country nationals applying for short-stay Schengen visas.271 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.

23.2The changes proposed by the Commission in its amending Regulation would make VIS fully interoperable with other EU security and migration information systems, ensuring that more thorough (and mandatory) background checks are carried out on visa applicants. They would also:

23.3The Commission considers that these changes will remove “blind spots” and close information gaps, ensuring that visa-issuing, border control and law enforcement authorities have the information they need to act on security risks without hindering legitimate travel within the border-free Schengen area. 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.

23.4If 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.

23.5The 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. In her Explanatory Memorandum of 8 June 2018, the Immigration Minister (Caroline Nokes) told us that the proposed Regulation would therefore have no direct legal, financial or policy implications for the UK. We accepted that this was the case while the UK remained an EU Member State and during any post-exit transition/implementation period in which EU rules on free movement continued to apply. We noted, however, that the immigration rules applicable to UK nationals travelling to the EU after the end of the transition/implementation period (expected to be 31 December 2020) would form part of wider negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU and were likely to mirror those put in place for EU citizens travelling to the UK post-exit and post-transition. As the Government has not yet published its Immigration White Paper (which is expected to set out 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), we could not exclude the possibility that new visa requirements might apply and that the changes to VIS envisaged by the Commission might affect UK nationals post-exit. We noted also that changes to VIS might have implications for UK law enforcement authorities. Although the UK currently 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.273 It is not clear whether they will be able to do so post-exit and post-transition.

23.6We asked the Minister to tell us:

23.7We also asked the Minister what assessment the Government had made of the potential impact of the proposed changes to VIS:

23.8In her letter of 30 August 2018, the Minister says the Government will “provide further information […] in our White Paper on Immigration this autumn” and offers no further detail on timing or content. She refers us to the Government’s White Paper on the Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union published in July which acknowledges the depth of the relationship and close ties between the EU and the UK and envisages that the UK’s “future economic partnership should therefore provide reciprocal arrangements, consistent with ending of free movement, that allow citizens to travel freely, without a visa, for tourism and temporary business activity”.274 The Minister continues:

“Should the UK impose, or seek to impose, a visa requirement on nationals of any EU Member State then the visa reciprocity mechanism, which is established under Regulation (EU) 1289/2013, is likely to be invoked. This could then eventually lead to the EU imposing a visa requirement on the UK.”

23.9The Minister observes that the Government is unable fully to assess the impact that the proposed changes to VIS may have on UK nationals travelling to the EU post-exit/transition until the EU and UK have concluded negotiations on the future immigration status of EU and UK citizens. She notes, however, that the proposed Regulation is based on ‘data protection by design’ principles, would not require the collection and storage of more data for a longer period than is necessary to allow the system to function and meet its objectives, and includes “all the safeguards and mechanisms required for the effective protection of the fundamental rights of travellers, particularly their private life and personal data”.

23.10Finally, the Minister reiterates the Government’s aspiration for “a coherent and legally binding agreement on internal security that seeks to maintain (and evolve over time) our levels of cooperation, including where technical tools (such as VIS) are concerned”. She draws our attention to a Technical Note published by the Department for Exiting the EU in May 2018 which outlines the potential impact of downgrading the levels of cooperation (including access to IT systems) to that of existing EU/third country agreements and concludes that “public safety could be compromised as our ability to cooperate to tackle internal security threats and bring criminals to justice would diminish”.

Our Conclusions

23.11We welcome the Minister’s assurance that the proposed Regulation contains “all the safeguards and mechanisms required for the effective protection of the fundamental rights of travellers, particularly their private life and personal data”. We note, however, that a future partnership agreement between the EU and the UK which guaranteed visa-free travel for tourism and business purposes would obviate the need for UK nationals to depend on these safeguards and mechanisms as their biometric information would not be collected and stored in VIS. The Minister acknowledges that the introduction of visa requirements for UK nationals travelling to the EU is likely to depend on decisions the Government takes on the basis of policy options set out in its Immigration White Paper. We ask the Minister to write again after its publication providing further details of the Government’s preferred approach.

23.12We appreciate that the Government is keen to secure a comprehensive agreement with the EU on internal security. As the Government is also undertaking contingency work to mitigate the risk that it may not be able to negotiate an acceptable agreement, we reiterate our request to the Minister to explain:

23.13Pending further information, the proposed Regulation remains under scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.

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

23.14The Visa Information System is one of six existing or planned centralised EU migration and security information systems.275 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

23.15The 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:

23.16It 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.276

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-fifth Report HC 301–xxxiv (2017–19), chapter 7 (11 July 2018).


271 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.

272 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.

273 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.

274 See Section 1.4.2 of the White Paper on Future Mobility Arrangements.

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




Published: 18 September 2018