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Hi, I’m María

I am from Colombia. After finishing my studies in sociology [1], I travelled to Brussels, Belgium where my cousin has been working for years. She is like a sister to me and I was excited to see her. I was also eager to see if I could make a life for myself in Brussels.

I saved a lot of money for my trip, but a few months before my departure, my father lost his job. I was very unsure about whether I should still go, but in the end decided to make the trip. It seemed more important than ever that I go, not only for myself but to try to help my family.

I had to request a travel authorisation through an online portal.[2] I had to provide information about my address, age, nationality, occupation, level of education and the names of my parents. I was also asked whether I had been convicted of a crime and if I’d ever been deported. They called me for an interview and asked me lots of questions about my family, my finances, my plans. [3] I felt nervous and worried, but finally I got the good news: they approved my request.

Discover my story


[1] National migration policies across Europe continue to offer decent labour migration opportunities mainly to workers with offers for highly paid employment or for very specific skills shortages. Accessible and decent labour migration pathways across various occupations remain very limited, despite labour market demand. This is the case in Belgium. There are some differences in the conditions to access work permits in the different regions. In the Brussels-Capital Region, work permits for non-EU citizens or residents are only available for jobs with salaries of over 40,000 €  a year at least, or if the prospective employer can show they have searched and no qualified worker can be found in the Belgian or European Economic Area labour market. The worker must also come from a country that has concluded an international labour agreement with Belgium. Colombia and Belgium do not have such an agreement.

[2] Once it is operational, people coming from countries which previously did not require a visa will have to apply for a travel authorization under the forthcoming European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). An algorithmic profiling tool will be used to influence decisions about who gets a travel authorisation based on a person’s nationality, age or country of residence and how these are perceived to correlate with a risk of staying in the EU longer than permitted.

[3] ETIAS will gather and analyze data for the advanced “verification of potential security or irregular migration risks” to facilitate border checks, improve efficiency and to harmonize “risk assessment of third country nationals”. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has expressed its concerns about the discriminatory potential.

There are also reportedly agreements among EU member states to vet people of specific nationalities, based on historic colonial ties. Member states may also object to the granting of a visa by another member states, based on their determination that the person is a “threat to public policy, internal security or public health.”

For more information, see:

Statewatch (2020), Automated suspicion: The EU’s new travel surveillance initiatives

Home Office drops ‘racist’ algorithm from visa decisions – BBC News.

Court of Justice of the European Union (Grand Chamber) Cases C-225/19 and C-226/19

European Data Protection Supervisor Opinion 3/2017, EDPS Opinion on the Proposal for a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).

View footnotes

Applying for a travel authorisation


Warning exclamation mark

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) applies to people who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area. It will be used to examine whether someone is a “security, migration or health” risk by comparing travel authorisation applications to EU databases and information systems, Europol data and Interpol data. It will also make use of a ‘watchlist’ and an automated profiling system based on ‘risk indicators’.



Under the EU’s interoperability regulations, travel authorisation applicants’ information will also be stored in the Central Information Repository (CIR) and link to multiple underlying information systems with purposes unrelated to visa applications (ranging from asylum applications to criminal records).

For more information, see Statewatch (2020), Automated suspicion: The EU’s new travel surveillance initiatives.

To continue María’s journey
please click on the travel authorisation

View footnotes

Journey to Belgium

At the airport, my passport and visa were checked by the border agents.


ID check

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The Entry-Exit System (EES), due to come into force in 2021, is one of the underlying migration databases within the interoperability framework. It will register all border crossings by non-EU citizens and automatically alert national authorities when a person’s visa or travel authorization expires, if they have not left the territory. It will store fingerprints, facial images, biographic data, and information on travel documents.



The Entry-Exit System is expected to be fully operational in 2022.

To continue María’s journey
please click on the passport

View footnotes

In Belgium

After I arrived in Brussels, my cousin helped me to find a job as a waitress. It was so great to be with my cousin, and things were going well. I was able to set aside some money every month to help my parents and younger brothers.



Everything went wrong when, just a few weeks later, there was an unannounced labour inspection at the restaurant. Police were there too.[1] Several of my colleagues also didn’t have papers, though some of them have lived here for many years, and have families here. We were all handcuffed and taken to the police station. I felt so shocked and humiliated.



[1] In most EU member states, including Belgium, authorities tasked with monitoring working conditions or financial matters, sometimes carry out simultaneous inspections with the police, who carry out immigration checks and enforcement. Even when police are not present during the inspection, in many countries labour inspectorates report undocumented workers to immigration. Workers may risk arrest, detention and deportation following an inspection.

View footnotes


At the police station, they took my fingerprints and checked the computer to find out about my situation.

They saw that my visa had expired. I was given a document ordering me to leave the territory immediately and they put me in detention for a week before I was released [1]. However, as there was no set date for my return, no concrete arrangement was made. I went back to stay with my cousin, expecting that at any moment I would be deported.



[1] Migration authorities are supposed to release people if they are not actively organising their deportation and / or if their deportation is not likely to take place in the short term. There may be issues with travel documents, practical arrangements and costs, or cooperation from the country of intended deportation that delay or prevent deportation. There may also be legal reasons, in particular, the likelihood that deportation would violate the person’s basic rights. But in many countries, including Belgium, when people are released they still have an order to leave the territory, so live in insecurity, with the threat of deportation hanging over them, sometimes for years.

View footnotes

An uncertain future

I was so anxious all the time thinking I will be deported. I stayed with my cousin, not sure what to do. I had lost my job and the wages I was still owed by the restaurant. Months passed. I found a job as a nanny, and eventually met someone and had a daughter. But I was always aware of the insecurity of my situation and of my future in Belgium, that everything could change in an instant, not only for me but for my daughter.

My boss frequently doesn’t pay me my full salary and asks me to work extra hours at short notice. It is really hard to make ends meet, provide for my family here and in Colombia, and carve out the time I need to care for my own daughter.

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