Why is the Commission proposing to introduce online visa applications?
The Commission is proposing today the digitalisation of the Schengen visa process, replacing the visa sticker, and introducing the ability to submit visa applications online through a European online visa platform. Through digitalisation, applying for a Schengen visa will become easier and the visa itself will be more secure and less vulnerable to theft and fraud.
The von der Leyen Commission's objective during its mandate has been to develop the Union's visa policy as a tool towards a more modern, customer-friendly and secure way of managing third-country nationals' travel to the Schengen area, which we have so far done with the adoption of the proposal to modernise the Visa Information System, the ongoing development of the Entry-Exit and ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation) systems and the implementation of the new Visa Code, including its Article 25(a) on cooperation on readmission.
When revising the EU Visa Code in 2019, the European Parliament and the Council explicitly stated the aim of developing a common solution to allow Schengen visa applications to be lodged online in the future, making full use of the recent legal and technological developments. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the slowing down of Schengen visa operations worldwide partly 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. Finally, 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.
Will it still be possible to apply through paper application?
In principle, all visa applications will be submitted digitally through the EU Visa Application platform. However, in individual cases applicants would still be able to submit a paper application at a consulate or a visa application centre if the assistance (via chat-box and Q&A section) provided by the EU Visa Application platform or by family or friends is not sufficient to apply online. Specific provisions will also apply in case of humanitarian reasons. Family members of EU/European Economic Area citizens who are exercising their right of free movement will also be able to continue to apply through paper applications.
Will applicants still need to go to consulates in person to apply for a visa?
All applicants will be able to lodge their application fully online (fill in the application form, pay the visa fee, upload supporting documents and check if biometrics are still valid). Nevertheless, for first-time applicants or applicants whose biometrics are no longer valid, a visit to the consulate or Visa Application Centre will be needed to provide biometric identifiers. Applicants, who will need to appear in person, will be able to book an appointment online.
Why will the digital visa be more secure than a paper one?
The fact that the visa is issued on paper makes it more vulnerable to fraud and theft which poses risks to the security of the EU. The digital visa will be an electronic record in the Visa Information System and thus the visa will no longer have any physical features that can be tampered with.
Will it be easier to get a visa with this proposal?
Although the digitalisation proposal will make it easier to apply for a visa, it does not change the conditions that must be met when submitting an application and its subsequent examination.
Who will build and manage the future application platform?
The platform will be built and maintained by eu-LISA (European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice). The Commission will be responsible for ensuring that the general visa information on the platform is up to date.
How will the application process via the platform look like for applicants?
First, the applicants will check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If they do, they will then create a secure account, fill out an application form and upload all the necessary documents. Subsequently applicants will pay online the visa fees and submit their application. The Schengen country which is the main destination of the trip will be in charge of examining the application. Applicants will be able to check the status of their application via the platform and will receive notifications about its status. Once the visa has been approved, applicants will be able to access it online. If needed, they will also be able to extend their visa period online.
What are the advantages of having a single European portal (for applicants and for Member States)?
A single application platform will provide applicants with one harmonised and seamless application procedure irrespective of the Schengen country they wish to visit. It will enable them to access all their submitted applications in one place. This would not be the case with Member States' own portals. Applicants would be faced with different procedures and they would have to access different systems to view their previous applications.
What about the existing national portals?
The Commission proposes to gradually phase out these national portals and replace them by a single application platform at EU level. The Commission has chosen to give the possibility to Member states to join the platform as soon as it becomes operational and at the latest five years after its establishment. This transition period will allow Member States phasing out smoothly their national tools and joining the EU Visa Application platform in a flexible manner.
How will the EU visa application platform protect the personal data of applicants?
EU Visa Application platform will be part of the recently revised Visa Information System, which has been recently upgraded and contains state-of-the-art data protection safeguards (purpose limitation, limited retention period).
Is today's proposal linked to the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)?
Both systems aim to facilitate travel to Schengen area while also strengthening its security. The proposed initiative applies to visa-required non-EU nationals, i.e. for non-EU nationals who need to apply for a visa when they wish to stay in the Schengen area for a period not exceeding 90 days in any 180 days period. ETIAS is to be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from the visa requirement but who do need to apply for a Travel Authorisation prior to their trip.
When will the new system become operational?
The Commission proposal will now be discussed at the European Parliament and the Council. Based on the Commission's proposal, Member States will have 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.
Will this proposal apply to Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus?
The proposal, once voted, will be applied by the countries applying in full the Schengen acquis: the EU27 (except Ireland and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus as not applying the Schengen acquis in full) + Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland. This is 26 countries in total. Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus do not apply the Schengen acquis in full and do not issue Schengen visas, nor do they have access to the Visa Information System. They will, therefore not apply this proposal which relates to the issuing of Schengen visas.
For More Information
Press Release: Visa Digitalisation: Visa travel to the EU becomes easier
Factsheet: Visa Digitalisation: Making visa travel to the EU easier