The Commission is today proposing to digitize the procedure for issuing Schengen visas, abolishing the visa sticker, and offering the possibility to submit visa applications online via the EU’s dedicated platform effect. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum has set the goal of full digitization of the visa issuance procedure by 2025. This initiative would effectively improve the visa application procedure, in this sense that it would reduce costs and burden for Member States and applicants, while enhancing the security of the Schengen area.
margaritis SchinasVice-President for Promoting Our European Way of Life, commented: “Today we are bringing EU visa policy into the digital age. Some Member States have already opted for digital, but it is essential that the countries of the Schengen area move forward together on this path. We propose to fully digitize visa applications to provide travelers and Member States with smoother and more secure application procedures.”
The Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ms.me ylva Johanssonsaid: “It is essential that we have a modern visa procedure which will facilitate tourist and business travel to the EU. Half of people traveling to the EU on a Schengen visa find the application process cumbersome, and a third of them have to travel miles to apply for a visa. It is high time for the EU to offer an online platform so that citizens of the 102 third countries subject to the obligation of a short-stay visa to travel to the EU can submit their application quickly and securely.”
In the digital age, applying for a visa is nonetheless a cumbersome procedure still largely based on paper, which then requires applicants to travel to present their passport and then to collect it with the visa, thus multiplying the costs. both for travelers and for Member States. Several of these have taken steps to allow visa applications to be made online, but each to varying degrees. Only a few offer online payment. These procedures further proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic, as applicants were denied the ability to visit consulates freely to apply for a visa.
The harmonization and unification of visa application procedures within the Schengen area will help to prevent the practice of “visa shopping” by applicants who might be tempted to apply in a country of the Schengen area offering faster processing than their actual country of destination. Digitizing the visa application process will also reduce the risks posed by physical visa stickers, which are more easily subject to fraud, forgery and theft. Today’s proposal is also in line with the general EU approach of encouraging the modernization and digital transformation of public services.
Thanks to digitalisation, it will be easier to apply for a Schengen visa, a visa whose security will also be reinforced:
- visa applicants can apply for a visa onlineincluding paying visa fees, via a single EU platform, regardless of which Schengen country they wish to visit;
- the platform will automatically determine the relevant Schengen country to examine a given application, in particular when the applicant plans to travel to several of these countries;
- the platform will provide applicants with up-to-date information on short-stay Schengen visasas well as all necessary information regarding requirements and procedures (including supporting documents, visa fees and the need to make an appointment for the biometric identification survey);
- the obligation to appear in person at the consulate would only apply to persons applying for a visa for the first time for the collection of biometric identifiers, or to applicants whose biometric identifiers are no longer valid or who have a new travel document;
- the security elements of the visa will be based on the most modern techniques and will therefore be more robust than those of the current visa sticker;
- the new system will guarantee the permanent protection of fundamental rights.
In 2018, the European Commission proposed to modify the visa code by adapting visa policies to new issues, while emphasizing that digital visas were the way forward in the longer term. When reviewing the EU Visa Code in 2019, the European Parliament and the Council expressed their willingness to develop a common solution, taking full advantage of recent legal and technological developments, which would allow the online submission of Schengen visa applications. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a slowdown in Schengen visa issuance operations around the world due to the difficulty in welcoming applicants to consulates and application centres, has led Member States to invite the Commission to speed up work on the digitization of visa procedures. The Migration and Asylum Pact proposed by the Commission in September 2020 set the goal of full digitization of the visa issuance process by 2025, with a digital visa and the possibility to submit applications online visa.
The Commission proposal will now be examined by the European Parliament and the Council. Member States will then have five years to switch to the common platform for online visa applications. Depending on the outcome of the negotiations between the co-legislators, the development of the platform could start in 2024, for entry into service in 2026. Given the five-year transition period, all Member States could use the platform in 2031.
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