In efforts to comply with the European Union’s Entry/Exit System (EES) which is expected to go fully operational by the last quarter of this year, Belgium’s Federal Council of Ministers has given clearance for the establishment of a new biometric migrant database to be accessible by all EU member states.
The establishment of the database, which can store migrant’s biometric data for up to 90 days, will enable immigration officials in Belgium to determine when a migrant’s stay in their country, for a non-EU national, has come to an end.
The automated system will capture their personal information such as name, type of travel document, fingerprints and face biometrics, date and place of entry and exit of each non-European migrant crossing the borders of an EU member-country.
“The entry-exit system greatly increases control over who enters the European Union. As a result, [Belgium] will immediately know from all persons on the territory who is staying longer than the permitted duration,” said Belgium’s State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi, in a press release, as translated by Google.
The official adds that the new digital tracking system will replace how such checks for illegal migrants were done in the past, which included moving door-to-door to ask residents if they know illegal migrants living around them. He said the novelty is even more important given the huge number of people (over 200,000) who enter Belgian territory annually with short-day visas, adding that it will be easier to know those whose visas have expired.
With the system, Mahdi said officials of the Immigration Department will be immediately notified as soon as a migrant’s stay in the country has legally come to an end, and whether they have left the country or not, preventing people from using false documents to remain in the country.
The announcement provides the example of a traveler entering Spain visa-free from outside of the EU, but deciding to travel to Belgium when their 90 days have expired, rather than leave the bloc. The current system does not afford a method of knowing when their allowed stay has expired, whereas EES will provide a digital trail.
Amid these plans to get the database running, there have also been concerns from rights activists about data privacy and safety due to the collection of people’s biometric information.
EU countries have been preparing themselves for the EES by installing and piloting biometric border control systems
In 2020, Idemia and Sopra Steria were awarded a framework contract for a biometric matching system to be used for the EES.