Schengen Area, named after “the Schengen Agreement” signifies a zone where 26 different European nations, acknowledged the abolishment of their internal borders with other member nations and outside, for the free and unrestricted movement of people, goods, services, and capital, in harmony with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality by strengthening the common judicial system and police cooperation. Through Schengen Area, borders between European countries are only existent on maps, as to over 400 million nationals of 26 member countries the freedom of traveling passport check and border control free within and outside the area is guaranteed, as within a single country, since every country share the common travel and movement rights.
The Schengen Area Member States:
- Czech Republic
As you see in the list above, the Schengen Area has twenty six (26) member states, twenty two (22) of which fully implement the Schengen Aquis, and four (4) of them – members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), implement Schengen Aquis through Specific Agreements related to the Schengen Agreement.
Three (3) of the following European countries are associated members of the Schengen Area but are not members of the European Union: Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.
Three (3) of the following territories are special members of the European Union and part of the Schengen Area, even that they are located outside the European continent: the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands.
On the other hand, three (3) of the following countries have open their borders with, but are not members of the Schengen Area: Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City.
There are six (6) most European Union members, that have not yet joined the Schengen Area: Ireland and United Kingdom – that still maintain opt-outs and Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus – that are required to and are seeking to join soon.
The external borders of the Schengen Area reach a distance of 50,000 km long, where 80% of it is comprised of water and 20% of land.
The area counts hundreds of airports and maritime ports, many land crossing points, an area of 4,312,099 million km2, and a population of 419,392,429 million citizens.
Attention! Although most of the Schengen countries are in the European Union, you should not confuse the Schengen area with the EU.
The Essential Features of The Schengen Area
The abolition of borders between European countries has resulted with:
- Nationals of any world country, when in the Schengen Area, to liberally cross the internal borders of the Schengen countries, free from border checks
- Shared standards for crossing the external borders of Schengen countries
- Harmonized entry and short-stay visa conditions for all Schengen countries
- Improved collaboration between the police of member countries
- Privileged judicial collaboration between Schengen countries, including a faster extradition of criminals, and easier relocation for execution of criminal verdicts
- An advanced shared database, assisting member countries to quickly exchange information about people and goods between them, known as (SIS) The Schengen Information System
- Despite the extent of the freedom guaranteed by the Schengen Area, the police enjoys the authority to carry out checks at internal borders and in border areas, in specific circumstances, but this is not considered a border check. The police can require information from people at internal borders about the stay in Schenghen Area and additional associated questions
- If lacking to have a complete internal security due to a serious threat, a Schengen country can temporarily reintroduce border checks at its internal borders, but for not more than 30 days
Schengen Related Legal Texts Adopted Within The EU Law
The following are four key regulations relating to Schengen Area that are included within the European Union Law:
- Schengen Borders Code (Regulation (EC) No 562/2006)
This legal text establishes leading rules concerning the movement of people through borders of the Schengen countries, the abolishment of internal border checks, as well as attempts to harmonize the criteria to cross the external borders for short-stays by third-country nationals.
- Visa Code (Regulation (EC) No 810/2009)
This legal text establishes procedures and criteria for issuing short-stay and airport transit visas to third-country nationals.
- Local Border Traffic Regime (Regulation (EC) 1931/2006)
This regulation concludes that inside the framework of the Regulation, bilateral agreements of Schengen countries with their bordering countries are permitted, on the basis of which the same countries can lessen border checks for people living in the border area, aiming to avoid the establishment of trade barriers, social and cultural trading, or, regional cooperation.
- Visa Information System (VIS) (Regulation (EC) 767/2008)
Such regulation serves to control an easy the exchange of data amongst Schengen countries on the application for and granting of short-stay visas.
The Criteria to Become a Schengen Member Country
Many European countries possess the determination to be part or to join the Schengen Area, but not all essentially can do this instantly. This for the fact that there are some pre-conditions or criteria that countries willing to join must have the capacity, or, need further preparation, to deal with, such as:
- To be able, that on behalf of other Schengen countries, to control the external borders of the Area as well as to issue Uniform Schengen Visas
- To possess the competence that after the abolishment of border controls between Schengen countries, to capably collaborate with other Schengen countries’ law enforcement agencies for a greater level of security
- To be equipped in applying “Schengen Acquis” or Schengen rules for controlling land, sea and air borders, issuing short-stay Schengen visas, police collaboration as well as protection of personal data
- To be ready to join and put in use the Schengen Information System (SIS)
*Note: Before joining the Schengen Area, the aspirant country is prone to a Schengen Evaluation. Afterwards, a member country undergoes a periodical evaluation to ensure the appropriate application of Schengen Acquis.
The Security System of the Schengen Area
The mechanisms through which the Schengen Area protects its citizens security and identifies frauds as regards of travel documents coming from prohibited individuals to enter the Schengen Area, are the following:
- Visa Information System (VIS) – Such supporting system of the Schengen Area’s security, serves as an instrument to exchange data for short-stay visa applications between Schengen countries.
- Schengen Information System (SIS) – This is another supporting system for the Schengen Area safety serves as a tool to exchange data between Schengen countries regarding suspected criminals, individuals who might not have the right to enter and reside in the Schengen Area, stolen, misappropriated or lost assets, as well as missing people.
- European Dactyloscopy (EURODAC) – Is another supporting mechanism to ensure the security of the Schengen Area and European Union. EURODAC is a fingerprint database which is used to identify asylum seekers and illegal border-crossers, by comparing fingerprints datasets.
All the aforementioned security mechanisms of Schengen Area and EU are managed by “eu-LISA”, an EU Agency for large-scale systems.
Visa Information System (VIS)
VIS’s main role is to share visa information between Schengen countries, as well as to attach data of embassies and consulates of non-EU and countries with that of external borders of the Schengen Area.
VIS generates analyzed and processed data, especially about the identity and purpose of travel, through a biometric matching – mostly of fingerprints, of the Schengen short-stay and airport transit visa applicants.
VIS contributes to the security of the Schengen Area and the European Union in the following forms:
- Supporting on the Visa Issuance and the Border Check Process
VIS is a system helping in the issuance process of the Schengen short-stay and transit visa. It also functions as an instrument of the police and border guards to quickly verify, using biometric data, the legality of a visa holder and to find irregular individuals staying in the Schengen Area with false documents or no documents at all.
- Combating Unlawful Actions
VIS is used as an instrument to combat lawless activities of individuals, such visa shopping and so on.
- Guarding Schengen Travelers
Using VIS the border guards easily identifies cases of individuals trying to travel across the Schengen Area using another individual’s identity.
- Assists with Asylum Applications
Through VIS it is easier to find the appropriate EU country responsible for considering a specific asylum application.
- Improves the level of security within the Schengen Area and the EU
VIS also assists to the national police as an instrument to prevent, identify and investigate terrorist and other forms of serious crimes.
The VIS’s functioning system is based on the data recorded in a central database. Such data includes 10 fingerprints scan and a digital photograph of the visa applicant which are gathered in one place, together with the data provided in the visa application form. In case there is a mismatch between the visa holder’s finger scans and those held in the VIS database, other checks as regards of the identity of the traveler can take place.
Schengen Information System (SIS)
Schengen Information System (SIS) functions as a basis for cooperation in law enforcement and protection of the external borders of the area, by providing alert information for police, migration, justice and other authorities regarding missing people, criminal entities associated with crimes, as well as about forbidden people to enter and stay in the Schengen Area.
Each individual possesses the right to access his/her personal data in the SIS and require deletion or correction of incorrect data. One can require such access based on the information provided in THIS guideline of the European Data Protection Supervisor. As a Schengen citizen, one gets the chance to inquire access at the relevant authority for issuing alert or at the data protection authority. While, as a non-EU citizen one can require such access to the consulate of any Schengen country in his/her country of residence.
Checks that SIS performs mainly orient towards non-EU citizens while less to EU residents.
SIS contributes to the security of the Schengen Area and the European Union in the following forms:
- Enables Border Control Collaboration
Using SIS, border guards, visa issuing, migration authorities and other authorities are empowered to quickly get alert information about non-EU nationals who are banned from entering the Schengen Zone and the EU.
- Supports Law Enforcement Collaboration
By SIS, the police and judicial system enjoy a better collaboration, allowing the relevant authorities to include and relate to alerts regarding missing people, people, or entities related to crimes.
- Increases Vehicle Registration Collaboration
Alternative advantage the Schengen Area enjoys from SIS, is the information it offers regarding the legal status of the vehicles flowing over the Schengen Area and the EU. Such data is especially useful by vehicle registration services – enjoying the needed access to the SIS alerts about vehicles, registration certificates and number plates.
European Dactyloscopy (EURODAC)
European Dactyloscopy or EURODAC’s role is to inspect the asylum application process and cross-borderers within the EU zone, by using and comparing datasets of fingerprints, aiming to support legal travel, the fight against serious crime and terrorism as well as irregular border-crossing over Schengen and the EU. The applicant’s fingerprints through EURODAC are communicated immediately, each time he/she applies for asylum everywhere in the EU.
This system, however, does not examine asylum applicants or cross borders over the age of 14.
EURODAC contributes to the security of the Schengen Area and the European Union in the following forms:
- Offers Easy Access to the Asylum Seekers and Cross Borders Fingerprints Data
It serves as a tool to fasten the process of data communication, as it speeds up the time between sending and receiving the fingerprints to the Central Unit of the EURODAC and authorities.
- Guarantees Harmony with The Newest Asylum Legislation
It offers information that is in complete conformity with the newest asylum legislation.
- Ensures Records yo Avoid, Identify, and Explore Terrorism And Serious Crimes
Despite that the EURODAC’s main activity is focused on providing data for asylum seekers, it also serves as a tool to compare fingerprints by the police authority in order to fight serious crimes and terrorism.
- Supports VIS’s Work
Additionally, the EURODAC is used, rarely, as a tool to compare fingerprints against VIS (Visa Information System).
Frequently Asked Questions about Schengen Area/Zone:
What is the Schengen Borders Agreement?
The Schengen Borders Agreement permits people to travel freely within the Schengen area, if the traveler otherwise qualifies to enter the Schengen area, by crossing an official external border during regular hours of operation and obtaining an entry stamp in the passport.
What does EFTA stand for?
EFTA is an association of ten Fair Trade importers in nine European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom). EFTA was established informally in 1987 by some of the oldest and largest Fair Trade importers. It gained formal status in 1990. EFTA is based in the Netherlands and has Dutch Articles of Association.
How does EFTA differ from EU?
While the EFTA stands for an association of ten Fair Trade importers in nine European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), the EU is a group of mostly European countries, (28 to be exact) that participates in the world economy as one economic unit and operates under one official currency, the euro.
Am I able to travel within the Schengen area with the residency permit?
The residency permit is allows you to freely travel throughout the whole Schengen area, without any additional documents needed. The residency permit is stamped in your passport. However, you have to notify the authorities if you intend to make trips in and out of the Schengen space.
Can I travel to more than one Schengen country with the same Schengen visa?
Yes, once you are issued the visa you can travel within the Schengen area as long as you don’t exceed the timeframe granted your visa.