Currently, obtaining a Schengen visa involves a significant amount of paperwork. Moving towards digitalization aims to make this process highly efficient, secure, and fast.
Previously, the European Parliament formally approved agreements between the EU's main institutions on the digitization of visas in the Schengen Area. On November 13, 2023, the EU Council officially adopted new rules that will allow people planning to travel to the Schengen Area to apply for a visa online. The Schengen Zone includes 27 European countries that have abolished most forms of internal border control. After the signing, the regulations will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and will come into effect twenty days after publication. The implementation date of the new rules will be determined after the completion of technical work on the visa platform and digital visas.
The regulations adopted on November 13, 2023, include:
- Establishment of a platform for visa applications for the EU. Except in certain cases, Schengen visa applications will be submitted through this platform. On the platform, applicants will be able to enter all necessary data, upload electronic copies of their documents and supporting documents, as well as pay visa fees.
- Elimination of the need for a personal visit to the consulate. Personal appearance will only be required for individuals submitting an application for the first time, individuals whose biometric data is no longer valid, and individuals with a new travel document. The current visa sticker will be replaced by a cryptographically signed barcode.
Digitalization of the Schengen Visa
The regulation aims to enable the submission of visa applications in electronic form, replacing paper procedures and reducing the number of in-person visits to embassies and consulates. Except in certain cases, all Schengen visa applications will be submitted on a single website. The platform, managed by the European IT Agency eu-LISA, will collect the relevant data, including electronic copies of documents, and will also handle the payment of visa fees. The platform will then forward all information to the relevant Schengen country. Decisions on visa issuance will also be available through the EU platform.
A personal visit to the consulate will be required only for individuals submitting an application for the first time, individuals whose biometric data is no longer valid, and individuals who have replaced their travel document. In case of intending to visit more than one Schengen country, the applicant can indicate which country they prefer to process the application, but the platform will have the right to automatically determine responsibility for processing the application based on travel details.
Risks of Schengen Visa Digitalization
Private companies providing visa services to EU member states have expressed concerns that such a system may contribute to the development of illegal visa providers, especially in countries with limited internet access.
The rapporteur of the European Parliament stated that he does not expect significant risks in this area, as external service providers must be vetted and approved by EU member states. Moreover, the applicant must personally visit the consulate or visa center at least once to dispel any doubts. The Commission and EU member states will actively combat illegal websites and address such risks.
Individuals with limited internet access or citizens who are not proficient in online resources will have the right to submit a traditional paper application in cases related to insufficient digital literacy, disability, and inadequate internet coverage or access.
Why is Visa Digitalization Needed?
- To simplify the visa application process, which is currently a lengthy and costly procedure for both consulates and applicants.
- To standardize the application process through a common European platform using the same digital procedure for all Schengen countries.
- To enhance visa security by replacing visa stickers with digital visas.
What Does Visa Digitalization Bring?
- Applicants will be able to apply for a Schengen visa online using a single platform.
- The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country is responsible for processing the application.
- The platform will provide applicants with up-to-date information on short-stay Schengen visas.
- Visas will be presented as electronic records in the Visa Information System, ensuring compliance with fundamental rights and the protection of personal data.
How to Apply for a Visa Using the New Platform?
- Check on the EU platform online whether you actually need a visa.
- If a visa is required, create a secure user account and upload all necessary documents.
- Find out if you need to provide biometric information. If you intend to visit more than one Schengen country, the platform will provide information on which country's visa to apply for.
- Pay the visa fee online and submit your application. The Schengen country that is your main destination will process your application.
- If biometric information is required, arrange a visit to the visa center or consulate.
- The status of your application will be available on the platform, and you will receive notifications.
- Access to the digital visa will be directly through the platform. In case of a lost travel document, the issued digital visa can be linked to a new document.
- If the conditions are met, visa extension can be done through the platform.
- According to the European Parliament, the legislative act will become mandatory around 2031 or 2032, but it will start operating on a voluntary basis from 2025.