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From Fingerprinting to Visa-Free Travel: New Frontiers in U.S. and E.U. Border Security
Press Release
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

From Fingerprinting to Visa-Free Travel: New Frontiers in U.S. and E.U. Border Security

WASHINGTON -- The United States and Europe are moving toward creating a single security space. Ever-increasing economic and political integration of the European Union and deeper economic and security partnerships among the United States, Canada, and Mexico are creating new models of border management. At the same time, concerns about attempts by terrorists to exploit easier access between countries on either side of the Atlantic are creating friction, and illegal migration and transnational criminal enterprises are eliciting greater strategic reassessment of, and investment in, border and immigration policies. 

Room for Progress: Reinventing Euro-Atlantic Borders for a New Strategic Environment, a new MPI report by Deborah W. Meyers, Rey Koslowski and Susan Ginsburg, describes the latest developments in three elements of U.S. and E.U. border management: the recently established enforcement agencies, benefits and limitations of new information technology, and contentious developments surrounding visa-free travel policy.

Highlights of ways in which U.S. and E.U. border control converge and diverge include:  
  • Whereas in 2006, the United States signed a $2.5 billion contract for the Secure Border Initiative to create a “virtual fence” to complement hundreds of miles of physical fencing, European border authorities tend to focus more on interior enforcement (e.g., at workplaces and points of contact with government agencies). There is increased convergence in strategies, though, with new Department of Homeland Security attempts to step up enforcement in the interior (e.g., at workplaces).
  • In terms of tracking the entry of foreign nationals, both the United States and Europe have made strides. The US-VISIT program processed the entry of more than 76 million foreign visitors to the United States by January 2007. The European Schengen Information System and a secondary databases known as “SIS I+” and “SISone4all,” designed to bolster external border controls so internal border controls can be removed, will enable most of the new EU Member States to lift controls at land borders by January 2008 and at airports in March 2008. 
  • Meanwhile, US-VISIT exit controls are not yet in place. Similarly, international travelers leaving the European Union are subject to passport controls at airports and land borders, but SIS is used only for watch-list checks, and Member States have yet to link entry and exit controls.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s fiscal year 2007 budget totals over $7.8 billion, while FRONTEX’s 2007 budget is €35 million (nearly triple its 2006 budget, but much less than that spent by Member States, which retain responsibility for policing their borders).
  • While U.S. border enforcement agencies seek more staff, soon some E.U. Member States may need less. The United States is having trouble recruiting, training and retaining the border personnel necessary for rapid growth. If CBP reaches 18,000 agents by the end of 2008 as planned, it will have added as many agents in two years as were added in the previous ten. Meanwhile, the Schengen Agreement establishes a single external border for nearly all E.U. Member States, increasingly eliminating the need for border guards at interior borders.
  • The European Union and the United States are both increasingly turning to information technology to screen flows of people in a manner that balances travel facilitation with border security. Halting illegal migration is a principal motivating force behind increasing expenditures on IT systems in Europe and the United States.
  • While the United States has required travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries to carry electronic passports, or “e-passports,” with facial biometric data, U.S. citizens’ passports currently do not all meet this requirement. E.U. Member States have agreed on a requirement their e-passports include fingerprints as well as facial biometrics.
  • In recent years, visa-free travel programs that waive short-term business or tourist visa requirements for nationals of select countries have become increasingly contentious amid heightened security concerns about terrorists who may enter through these programs and fears of increased illegal immigration by people overstaying their visas.
  • Because all E.U. Member States, except for the United Kingdom and Ireland, belong to the Schengen Area and are treated essentially as a single entity for internal travel, the E.U. claims that visa-waiver status granted to one Member State should apply to all. The United States has engaged in a “consultative process” about Member States’ status, which has not led to clear resolutions. A new U.S. law requires travelers to electronically file travel authorization requests with DHS prior to their departure and gives the Secretary of Homeland Security increased flexibility in setting and administering overstay standards.

Ultimately, the authors suggest that U.S. and E.U. policymakers must engage in greater dialogue on the new security systems and structures they are developing, as well as enhance international cooperation on border management, specifically institutional, technological and visa arrangements, if they are to realize their shared goal of securing national and regional borders.

Room for Progress: Reinventing Euro-Atlantic Borders for a New Strategic Environment is online.