In a significant step forward, EU countries voted on June 9, 2017 to adopt a proposed new security screening program called the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) during a meeting of the E.U. Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg. ETIAS is an electronic visa waiver program that would allow visa-exempt travelers to apply for travel authorization online prior to arrival in the Schengen Area.

Currently, the citizens of nearly 60 countries do not need a visa to travel to Europe. These include foreign nationals from the United States, Taiwan, Australia, and Argentina. Under the proposed system, which was agreed to on Friday by the interior ministers of EU member countries, citizens from these visa-exempt countries would still be permitted to travel without a visa, but visitors over 18 would have to pay a fee to process their online ETIAS application.

The travel authorization would be valid for multiple entries for 3 years.

Benefits of Proposed ETIAS Program

Based largely on the ESTA program already in place in the United States, ETIAS would allow authorities to cross-reference identity documents and other personal details with other databases, greatly improving security and providing substantial benefits for the E.U. at large.

The European Parliament still has to approve the ETIAS program but its proponents hope to see it in place by 2021. On Friday, June 9, the European Justice and Home Affairs Council voted to adopt the ETIAS program to gain more control over Europe’s borders.

“ETIAS will allow us to gather advance information on persons traveling visa-free to the EU,” said Commissioners Dimitris Avramapoulos and Julian King in a joint statement, “and to ensure that those who may pose a security risk are identified before they reach our borders.”

Following a wave of terrorism in several European cities, the EU has been making more concerted efforts to increase security. This is especially important in light of the current refugee crisis, as more than 1 million migrants have arrived at European borders seeking assistance.

“ETIAS will allow us to control in advance entries into the EU and better tackle the problems that people who come to commit acts of banditry and terrorism could pose,” says French minister Gérard Collomb.

European officials also encouraged the council and the E.U. Parliament to start negotiations and reach an agreement before the end of 2017.