This week, the Commission has proposed the digitalisation of the Schengen visa process, replacing the visa sticker, and introducing the possibility to submit visa applications online through the European online visa platform. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum set the objective to fully digitalise visa procedures by 2025. It is an opportunity to effectively improve the visa application process by reducing the costs and the burden on Member States as well as the applicants, while also improving the security of the Schengen area.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Today we are bringing the EU’s visa policy into the digital age. With some Member States already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one. We are proposing a fully digitalised visa application to help both travellers and Member States ensure smother and more secure application process.”
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson said: “A modern visa process is crucial to make travel to the EU easier for tourism and business. Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU.”
In today’s digital age, applying for a visa is still a lengthy and heavily paper-based process with applicants having to travel to submit and collect their passport with a visa afterwards, leading to accumulating costs both for travellers and Member States. Several Member States have taken steps to move visa applications online but there are differences in the extent to which they have done this. Only a few offer the possibility of paying online. These procedures also proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic where applicants were no longer able to freely go to consulates to apply for visas.
Harmonising and unifying visa application procedures within the Schengen area will help to avoid so called ‘visa shopping’ by applicants who may be tempted to lodge an application with a Schengen country that offers faster visa application processing than with a country that is actually their destination. The digitalisation of the visa process will also reduce security risks posed by the physical visa stickers, which could still be prone to falsification, fraud and theft. Today’s proposal is also in line with the general EU approach to encourage the modernisation and digitisation of public services.
Through digitalisation, applying for a Schengen visa will become easier and the visa itself will be more secure:
- Visa applicants will be able to apply for a visa online, including paying the visa fee through a single EU platform, regardless of the Schengen country they want to visit;
- The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country is responsible for examining an application, in particular when the applicant intends to visit several Schengen countries;
- The platform will provide applicants with up-to-date information on Schengen short-stay visas, as well as all necessary information regarding the requirements and procedures (such as supporting documents, visa fee or the need for an appointment to collect biometric identifiers);
- Appearing in person at the consulate would only be mandatory for first time applicants for the collection of biometric identifiers, for applicants whose biometric data are no longer valid or those with a new travel document;
- The visa will include state-of-the-art security features, which will be more secure than the current visa sticker;
- The new system will ensure that fundamental rights are always protected.
The European Commission in 2018 proposed to amend the Visa Code by adopting visa policies to new challenges and equally stressed that digital visas are the way forward for the longer term. When revising the EU Visa Code in 2019, the European Parliament and the Council stated the aim of developing a common solution to allow Schengen visa applications to be lodged online, thereby making full use of the recent legal and technological developments. The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the slowing down of Schengen visa operations worldwide, due to the difficulty of receiving visa applicants in consulates and visa application centres, prompted Member States to call upon the Commission to speed up work on digitalisation of visa procedures. The Pact on Migration and Asylum proposed by the Commission in September 2020 set the objective of making the visa procedure fully digitalised by 2025, with the introduction of a digital visa and the ability to submit visa applications online.
The Commission proposal will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council. Member States will have then five years to switch to the common online visa platform. Based on the outcome of the negotiations between the co-legislators, the development of the platform could start in 2024 and become operational in 2026. Considering the five year transition period, all Member States could use the platform in 2031.
Source: European Comission