Delivering the Seamless Border Vision - Chapter 3


While technology is an important enabler, successfully implementing the end-to-end seamless border vision is a complex proposition that involves multiple stakeholders and requires supporting common standards alongside harmonised regulatory frameworks.


Having explored the vision and the technology innovations and advances being utilised today to support the implementation of seamless border programmes around the globe, we’ll now look at what’s involved in making this happen ‘for real’.


One thing is for sure. Initiatives currently underway highlight how implementation is a complex and multi-faceted proposition that goes way beyond simply planning to deploy new standalone systems and technologies and ‘hoping for the best’.

For a start, building a successful IT system that supports seamless travel involves deep collaboration between multiple stakeholders including border authorities, air and sea ports, land-based border points and carriers – including train and bus operators – and deep integrations with a multitude of other systems.


All of which will entail the redesign of business processes, the training of personnel in these new protocols, and careful planning to manage the operational impact of these changes. Plus, systems will need to be backwards compatible and future-proofed to support potential further technology innovations on the horizon. The discipline of change management and engaging comprehensively with stakeholders should include travellers, who need to be able to use the new solutions. Good two-way communication will all be important for achieving a successful outcome within planned timeframes.


But that’s not all. As technology increasingly forms an essential part of border control and international travel processes, the need for excellent cyber resilience and highly reliable IT systems and infrastructure will grow. Contingency plans need to be in place to handle unexpected downtime events, which could cause major disruption.

Common standards, shared best practices and legislative change


For the seamless border vision to be realised, common and internationally recognised standards will need to be in place that define everything from how biometrics are captured, verified and shared, through to data formats and transmission protocols, and what passenger data needs to be kept and analysed so that border agencies can conduct risk assessments on travellers.


International organisations such as ICAO, INTERPOL, FRONTEX, IATA and ACI are currently developing standards and liaising with stakeholders to encourage good practice and the adoption of appropriate standards. Similarly, the Cruise Line International Association is pushing for Passenger Facilitation Programmes for vessels with 3000-7000 passengers that utilise seamless technologies to facilitate the faster processing of passengers for border control checks.


These activities are vital for enabling systems providers to define and develop compliant and interoperable solutions that meet all use case requirements. Secure Identity Alliance (SIA) supports the use of good practice and the OSIA standard for interfaces between identity systems, including for borders and ports.


On the identity management front, with biometrics becoming increasingly important for enrolling and verifying visa applicants and travellers entering and leaving a country, project planners will need to be cognisant of the fact that legacy systems may not contain someone’s biometric information and any new system will need to be able to manage this situation. Added to which, realistic questions will have to be asked about how quickly older technical infrastructure can be transformed to support ambitions for extensive radical change.


For example, legacy data can pose a particular challenge when a new system is introduced and any new system needs to be able to cope with old data as well as introducing data that is managed to a new higher standard. To address challenges of this nature, eu-LISA -the agency responsible for the large-scale, centralised IT systems that support EU border management - is developing a Multiple Identity Detector (MID) to help to resolve possible duplicate identities in the new infrastructure that will underpin freedom of movement within the Schengen Area.


Establishing trust-based legal frameworks for entry and border controls is a massive work-in-progress task for international authorities. Governing everything from data and systems interoperability to data transfer practices and privacy, the coordination of this legislative change is a significant undertaking that has far reaching implications for the successful implementation of seamless border projects which may have to await for the enactment of key policy changes.


Lessons learned – discovering what implementation looks like in practice


Seamless border projects are large scale and complex programmes that require huge amounts of collaboration across people and organisations and careful consideration of a variety of issues. Even the most carefully thought-out plans can encounter delays and unexpected hold ups.


The European Commission announced in late 2023 the plan to implement the new electronic entry and exit system (EES) for registering the arrivals and departures of non-EU citizens in late 2024 (possibly October?). The new visa waver border scheme (ETIAS) is now planned to come into operation in 2025. The range of countries and stakeholders involved, with potentially differing agendas or requirements, does make all of this a challenging undertaking.


Around the globe, programmes designed to deliver greater automation at borders and streamline travel within regions or internationally are providing a template for success. Whether that’s putting the focus on security and information sharing between neighbouring states and introducing technologies such as e-gates that will streamline and speedup arrivals and departures for travellers. Or the initiation of commercial agreements and alliances between airlines and airports featuring enhanced digital check-in and boarding processes and data sharing that streamline passenger journeys through terminals. And indeed a growing number of biometric self-enrolment installations feasibility trials to evaluate the best way to enable a smoother entry/exit and more secure journey for travellers.


Meanwhile, the EU is also preparing the foundations for end-to-end digitised traveller identity management scheme to facilitate travel; putting an end to paper-based visas and stamps in physical passports. In other words, non-EU travellers can pass through eGates, something that is not the case today, as part of the delivery of an EU Exit/Entry System (EES) programme for carriers.


Enabling all this involves multiple systems including the Schengen Information System II (SIS II), the Visa Information System (VIS) the European Asylum System (EURODAC), a Shared Biometric Matching Service (sBMS) and Common Identity Repository (CIR) and more.


Delivering seamless: adopting an incremental approach


The scale and complexity of seamless border management projects can feel daunting but, as initiatives around the globe show, adopting a progressive implementation approach can increase assurance and reduce the impact of initial problems in highly complex environments. This could include early piloting, phased introduction and trial periods where new arrangements could be eased when unexpected problems are experienced or when some participants cannot meet planned deadlines. Undertaking phased rollouts that enable operational services to be fully tested and implemented in the most efficient and non-disruptive way possible.


The good news is that many of the technology building blocks needed to make the seamless border vision a reality are readily available today. ICAO is producing guidelines for a digital travel credential (DTC) that would facilitate more streamlined experiences for travellers at border controls. Meanwhile the development of frameworks supporting EU Digital ID is underway and in the future, an EU digital wallet could potentially contain an integrated DTC.


Similarly, IATA have been working on the seamless passage of travellers through airports under the OneID banner. An initiative that includes baggage check-in, security checks and boarding by enabling travellers to create an account, give their personal details and register their passports.


The converged learnings from all these initiatives and the evolution of major new national systems and international collaborations will build over time, enabling seamless border programmes to progress step-by-step to become successful and widely adopted systems that can be extended and constantly developed. Many of the automated or self-service solutions in use today – eGates, pre-clearance kiosks, ePassports and biometrics – have taken years to mature and to be extensively adopted.