Schengen visa application to go digital
Published on: 04 May 2022

The European Commission has announced its intention to bring the Schengen visa application system into the digital age by replacing physical visa stickers with electronic versions as well as providing for a universal online application process. Absent complications, the new system will go into effect in 2026.

A Schengen visa is currently required for passport holders from the 100+ countries which do not currently have visa-free access to the European Schengen area. At the moment, Schengen visas exist in the form of physical stickers, which are pasted into passports (which are then presented to border control for entry to the Schengen zone). Would-be travelers to the zone apply for a visa through the embassy or consulate of their primary destination in the Schengen area. The application process involves the submission of various documents and materials, including a basic Schengen visa form. While some countries offer an online application process, all require applicants to submit a physical copy of their application in-person (and complete additional in-person requirements).

In effect, the new reforms would make the online Schengen application process (which is currently country-specific) universal. Going forward, all applicants, regardless of what country they are applying to, would apply through the same online system. Whereas in the current system, applicants are responsible for identifying their primary destination in the Schengen area (an oft-confusing task for applicants, especially for visa-seekers looking to travel to multiple destination in the zone), the online system would remove the responsibility of that determination from the applicant. Digitizing the sticker will allow for the implementation of a host of new protective security measures aimed at preventing fraud and the ongoing insurance of the rights of the applicant under European law. The online system will be a one-stop-shop for the most current requirements and facts about Schengen visas. Whereas current applicants must access country consulate visa sections for country-specific information about how to apply for their visa, the new system will provide a repository of essential, credible Schengen visa information, including facts pertaining to visa pricing, visa interviews, and required application materials.

According to EU officials, these reforms are envisioned as cost-effective measures which will increase collective Member State security as well as improve the application experience (at both the application submission and application processing level). The need for an overhaul of the current system became even clearer due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, which exposed the limitations of much of the in-person requirements for visa seeking applicants. Under the new system, the near-universal current requirement for applicants to show up personally for a physical appointment would apply exclusively to applicants who are not yet in the system (i.e. new applicants who have yet to have their fingerprints and photos collected for biometric data purposes/previous applicants whose information has expired, for example).

The current proposal will be considered by the European Council and its respective bodies. If adopted, the proposed timeline for its integration among the 26 Schengen states is five years, meaning that the online Schengen application system would become at least partially accessible by 2025, with total use (i.e. 26 states) by 2031.

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