Author: Eren Erol
On Wednesday, the European Union’s Commission revealed its plans to digitalise the procedures for applying for a Schengen visa, a move warmly welcomed by travellers from countries under the Schengen visa regime.
Unfolding a proposal, which should first be discussed by the Parliament and Council soon, the EU Commission has revealed some important details on how it has envisioned the digitalisation of the Schengen visa application procedures.
Some of the main changes that are set to happen are the establishment of a completely online procedure for travellers, including here online fee payments, as well as a system that will automatically take decisions on visa applications.
Commenting on the proposal on Wednesday, April 27, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said that it has been about the time that the EU created a web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that need a visa to travel to the Schengen Area.
“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 distances to ask for a visa,” she said, highlighting the importance of the digitalisation of the Schengen visa application.
While the proposal should first be supported by both the Parliament and the Council, once that happens, the Member States will have a period of five years available to transition from manual visa application to digital procedures.
Why Is the EU Digitalizing Schengen Visa Procedures Now?
The Schengen visa code first entered into force in 2010, whereas the Visa Information System (VIS) started operations a year later in 2011. Since then, the environment in which visa policy operates has changed considerably, mainly due to the growth of illegal migration and security challenges, as well as the significant developments in technology which may create facilitations for visa applicants and visa service providers.
Though Schengen visa processing is partially digitalised, a large part of the procedures remains paper-based even in 2022, creating a burden for both the relevant authorities in the Member States as well as third-country applicants subject to the visa regime.
After several Member States started digitalising parts of the visa procedures individually, in 2017 the Estonian Council Presidency took the first step toward what was proposed last week, calling for the digitalisation of the Schengen visa process.
Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Schengen visa operations worldwide had at first halted and then only partially functioned, thus creating difficulties for the Schengen Area consulates and applicants. The situation had prompted the Member States to call on the Commission to accelerate its work and come up with a proposal in this regard.
How Will the Digitalized Schengen Visa Procedures Work?
By 2026, the EU Commission intends to launch a platform which will offer Schengen visa applicants the possibility to apply online, as well as ] up-to-date information on Schengen short-stay visas.
Regardless of their Schengen Area destination country or the Schengen visa type they are applying for, travellers will need to fill in a visa application form on the same platform, upload a scanned copy of their travel document, travel health insurance, as well as the rest of documents needed for application.
“Each applicant should submit a completed application form using the EU application platform, including a declaration of the authenticity, completeness, correctness and reliability of the data submitted and a declaration of the veracity and reliability of the statements made,” the proposal of the Commission notes.
In cases when the applicant intends to visit more than one country in the Schengen Area, the platform will automatically decide which Schengen country is responsible for processing the application. The application will then be transferred to the competent national system of that Member State to be processed.
As per the collecting of biometrics, only those applying for the first time for a Schengen visa will need to show up at a consulate or external visa processing provider in order to give their fingerprints and have their photo taken.
“Repeat applicants should be able to apply fully online within a period of 59 months after their initial successful application, provided that they apply with the same travel document. Once this period of time has elapsed, biometrics should be collected again,” the proposal explains.
When it comes to underage applicants, a person exercising permanent or temporary parental authority or legal guardianship should apply on their behalf.
Applicants who have failed to complete their application with the right information/documents will be notified by the system. Once the traveller completes his/her application, and the same is processed by the relevant Member State, the latter should notify the traveller of the decision that has been taken, whether indicating the visa is issued, refused, confirmed to a new travel document, extended, annulled or revoked.
When issued, the visa will no longer be granted in its current form, like a sticker, but digitally, “in the form of a 2D barcode, cryptographically signed by the Country Signing Certificate Authority (CSCA) of the issuing Member State,” the Commission says.
Paying the Schengen Visa Fee Online
The platform will also make it possible to pay the Schengen visa fee by using a third-party gateway linked to the online application platform. The payments will be directly transferred to the Member State processing the application.
The visa fees will not change, and the exemption and visa facilitation agreements will continue to apply.
Completing the Online Schengen Visa Application Form
The online Schengen visa application form will be quite similar to the existing forms. It will have to be completed in the new platform and will ask for the following personal data of the visa applicant:
- Name and surname
- Date, place, and country of birth
- current nationality, nationalities at birth, if different, other nationalities
- sex & civil status
- in case of minors, the parental authority/ legal guardian should give their information as well
- national identity number, where applicable
- type and number of travel document, date and place o issuance, and its expiration date
- home address and email address, telephone number, residence in a country other than the country of current nationality
- current occupation, employer and employer’s address and telephone number
- for students: name and address of the educational establishment
- the purpose of the trip
- the main destination in the Schengen Area and list of countries planned to visit, as well as the Member State of first entry
- number of entries requested, intended date of arrival of the first intended stay in the Schengen area; Intended date of departure from the Schengen area after the first intended stay
- fingerprints collected previously for the purpose of applying for a Schengen visa, date (if known), and visa number if known
- information on the host/inviting person, if applicable
- how the cost of travelling and living during the applicant’s stay is covered
All the information given in this form will be recorded and stored temporarily.
Which Countries Will Use the Platform
All 26 Schengen Area countries will be using the platform. As for the remaining five non-Schengen EU countries, Ireland as a non-Schengen member by choice, is not bound to take part in the platform.
The other four, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, which are currently trying to become part of the Schengen Zone and partially apply the Schengen acquis, will have to continue to issue visas in the form of a uniform format (sticker).
“In order to enable the application of Decision No 565/2014/EU, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania should have read-only access of digital visas stored in VIS,” the Commission says.
The System Will Also Be Used for the Issuance of Long-Term Visas
The platform will not serve exclusively only for Schengen visa applications, as the Commission intends to amend the platform so that long-term visas issued by the Member States, also known as National Visas, can be issued in the digital format.
How Much Will It Cost for the EU to Create Such a Platform?
According to EU Commission assessments, the EU will have to spend between €33.8 million and €41.2 million for the creation of this platform. After it is created, the operation and maintenance costs will amount to a yearly cost between €10.5 million and EUR 12.8 million, including ten staff members for eu-LISA.
This means that, on average, the Member States will have to invest between €2.5 million to €3 million for the creation of the platform, and then another between €270,000 and €330,000 for its maintenance annually.
The Commission, however, highlights that the costs for the operation of the platform will greatly depend on the number of visa applications a Member State receives per year.
When Will the Platform Become Fully Operational?
The Commission plans to start the development of the platform two years from now, in 2024, and to make it fully operational by 2026. However, the Member States will have a period of five years available to transition from the current visa processing methods to the digital one.
This means that by 2031, it is expected that all Schengen visa applications will be filed and processed digitally, regardless of the Schengen area destination of the visa applicant.
What About Visa-Free Countries?
Travellers from more than 60 world countries under the Schengen Visa-free regime will not be affected by this platform anyhow.
However, starting from next year, these travellers will have to apply online for a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), which is set to be launched by the end of this year.
The ETIAS will be a document for which travellers will need to apply completely online and will cost only €7 per person. It will be valid for a period of three years at first or until the travel document expires, whichever comes first. Travellers will have to carry the confirmation they receive in their email upon application and present it to the border officers whenever they travel to the Schengen Area.
The scheme has been created in a bid of the bloc to keep track of the visitors from visa-free countries and thus, enhance the security within Europe for European citizens and travellers. The EU expects that the ETIAS will contribute to the decrease of security concerns in its territory, illegal migration, and terrorist threats.