Brexit: Can UK Citizens With A Criminal Conviction Travel To The EU?

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Stormy Skies Ahead View Over Apron by A Howse
Stormy Skies Ahead View Over Apron by A Howse

Tomorrow night the United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union. From midnight on December 31st 2020 all those living in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be affected by the legal, economic and practical changes that will take place. In the future UK citizens looking to travel to Europe will need to complete an application in order to stay for up to 90 days in any 180 day period in any of the 26 Schengen member states. You can see a list of the Schengen countries by following the link below. (1)

The new European Travel Information and Authorisation System ETIAS visa waiver system is set to be fully implemented by the end of 2022. This means a person with a serious criminal conviction who lives in the UK may not be allowed to travel to any of the 26 countries in the Schengen area of the EU. This is because they may be denied a travel visa. This potential ban on being able to visit a country (or individual countries in a region such as the European Union) is much like the current process that we have currently with the American immigration services, whose system for processing applications to those wanting to visit the US is called ESTA.

Erica Crompton at London’s Metro newspaper reported that there are “11 million people in the UK with a criminal record. A third of men and nine per cent of women will have been convicted of an offence by the age of 53.” Unlock is a charity who provide information and advice to people who have received criminal convictions in the UK. Unlock agree with this startling figure and also added that 735,000 people currently have unspent convictions in the UK. (2)

When the rules change automatic entry for UK passport holders into any country in the EU will cease. Debbie Sadler is the Advice Manager at Unlock and she explains that UK citizens will need to complete an application online for the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) Applicants wanting to travel to Europe will need a debit or credit card and a biometric passport. The ETIAS visa waiver form to Europe will cost around £6.30 (7 Euro) and it will begin with providing a range of personal details. The following 3 questions will also need to be answered:

Have you been convicted of any criminal offence listed in the Annex (see below) over the previous 10 years and in the case of terrorist offences, over the previous 20 years, and if so when and in which country?”

Have you stayed in a specific war or conflict zone over the previous 10 years and if so, the reason for your stay?”

Have you been subject to any decision requiring you to leave the territory of a Member State or have you been subject to any return decision issue over the previous 10 years?”

The Unlock.org.uk link below will take you to the page with the annexed list of violent and serious offences that will likely bar entry. This eclectic list of serious convictions includes industrial espionage, fraud, cybercrime, forgery and racism. (5)

If a person answers yes to any of the above questions they will be referred to a manual application process at the ETIAS National Unit where an immigration manager may ask for additional information and will then either approve or refuse the travel authority for visiting the EU.

The ETIAS website states that “many countries will still grant entry to travellers with a minor criminal history.” ETIAS also warns that Germany has much stricter rules than most of the other Schengen member states, as the county reserves the right to immediately deport anyone with: A public order conviction with a sentence of more than 3 years. Drug offences with a sentence of more than 2 years. Any offence related to human trafficking.” ETIAS advises that the system is geared towards identifying terrorist threats. (6)

Increased border security will be a result of Brexit for both UK and all EU countries. Passports will be checked and there will be an increase in bureaucracy for everyone. This will include the new ETIAS travel visa forms. When an ETIAS form is issued it is valid for 3 consecutive years. If an ETIAS application is denied an applicant is eligible to apply to appeal the decision. (7)

Last year the Office for National Statistics recorded that there were over 66 million people living in the UK. These means 1 person in 6 and their families will be potentially barred from travelling together on holiday or for work to the United States or the European Union because of a previous criminal conviction.

It is inevitable that the European Union will choose to restrict its borders in response to the UK’s wish to leave the Union and restrict access to European teenagers and adults who have previous convictions on their record. A key Leave campaign goal for leaving the EU has been the wish to ‘regain sovereignty’. This aim to be a ‘self governing state’ has translated into increasing border security and much tougher immigration rules with new laws in passed in Westminster this winter. One of the disadvantages of Brexit for those living in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be a decrease in the freedom to travel and work abroad, due to the increased visa restrictions particularly for those who have convictions for breaking the law in the UK.

(1) ‘Schengen Area – The World’s Largest Visa Free Zone’ 28 December 2020 Schengen Area – The World’s Largest Visa Free Zone’ Schengen Visa Info

(2) ’10 things you should know if you have a criminal record’ Erica Crompton, Metro, 28 October 2017 ’10 things you should know if you have a criminal record’ Erica Crompton, Metro

(3) ‘Travel to the EU post-Brexit’, 28 December 2020, ‘Travel to the EU post-Brexit’, Unlock.org

(4) ‘Going to Europe with a Criminal Record: Requirements and How to Apply’ ETIAS website, 28 December 2020 ‘Going to Europe with a Criminal Record: Requirements and How to Apply’ ETIAS

(5) ‘British citizens will require an ETIAS after Brexit’ ETIAS.com, 28 December 2020 (7) ‘British citizens will require an ETIAS after Brexit’ ETIAS.

(6) ‘Population estimates for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid-2019’ Office for National Statistics, 30 December 2020 ‘Population estimates for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid-2019’ Office for National Statistics