On EU-Turkish Visa Deal, EU cannot identify overstays

Critics of the plan to give Turkish citizen visa-free access to the EU zone say the measure could allow these travelers to disappear because the European Union does not have a system to detect visitors who overstay their visas.

The critics say that the problem is compounded by plans to grant vis-free travel to the fifty-two million people from Ukraine, Kosovo, and Georgia. The citizens of these four countries will be able to access the Schengen zone, which does not include Britain, for ninety days for tourism and for 180 days on business.

The Telegraph notes that the EU has a visa waiver agreement with more than sixty countries around the world – but that EU officials admit they have no way of systematically identifying and tracking the estimated 250,000 people a year who overstay their visas in Europe.  The reason: In many countries the entry into the Schengen free-travel zone is still logged with only a rubber stamp on a passport.

The twenty-six countries which are members of the Schengen Zone agreement do not operate or share  a centralized database. Some countries maintain national databases, but these data bases cannot be used for identifying and tracking visa overstays, because people can move freely around the continent.

Analysts told the Telegraph that in normal times, visa overstays account for the majority of illegal migrants in Europe. The lack of a centralized tracking system leaves Europe vulnerable to terrorists, organized crime, and people trafficking, EU’s internal documents say. 

Four years ago, the European Commission has proposed the creation of a digital “Entry Exit System” to log entries and exits of non-EU visitors into the EU zone. National governments have blocked the plans, however, and a new proposal was formulated last month.

Critics say it will take years to implement – assuming national governments even accept the new proposal — — which will be too late for the deal with Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, and Kosovo.

The Telegraph reports that an EU impact assessment about the current system of managing legal migrants said it was “error prone,” adding that the EU “cannot report and identify overstayers systematically, easily and in a reliable manner, resulting in a lack of reliable information on irregular immigration.” In its forecasting, the EC assumes that one in 1,000 visitors overstays by more than seven days.

Timothy Kirkhope, a former immigration minister and Conservative MEP, said proper entry and exit checks should be in place before the Turkey deal comes into force.

Getting a system in place where there is order and discipline is absolutely essential. Unless you have a system in place to check in and out, it’s not possible to run any kind of sensible immigration system at all.

“It sounds very reasonable to say it is just for 90 days, but how the hell do you know it is just 90 days, and how at the end of 90 days do you locate and remove them?”

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