As COVID-19 vaccination campaigns continue in earnest globally, countries around the world are increasingly welcoming arriving foreigners who are traveling for non-essential reasons. The opening up of Europe and much of the rest of the world today is in contrast to the situation even several months ago, when many Schengen countries kept their borders closed to all but essential travel, in a collective effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Unsurprisingly, the near-global travel ban caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to a decline in travel throughout the world—and a correlated decline in visa applications. As states and entire regions issued near-total bans on all but essential travel for non-citizens and residents, country-consular departments around the world stopped issuing entry visas at the request of their respective governments. For over a year, many consulates only issued visas to foreigners for urgent or essential reasons. Europe was particularly closed off to arriving foreigners throughout the pandemic. As a result of various national and zone-wide travel restrictions and recommendations on the issuances of visas, the number of Schengen visa applications filed plummeted in 2020 in comparison to 2019. Today’s blog will therefore provide an overview and explanation of Schengen visa statistics in 2020 (including the visa rejection rate and the number of Schengen visa requests) in the context of COVID-19. 

How are Schengen visa applications tallied?

  • When you apply for a Schengen visa, you do so through the consulate of the country you are planning to visit in the Schengen area. 
  • Each of the 26 Schengen countries have numerous consulates and consular departments in countries around of the world, which process the Schengen visa applications of foreign applicants. 
  • Each country-consulate keeps track of the number of Schengen visa applications it receives per year. At years end, the number of total applications is counted and submitted to the European Commission, which tallies the total number of Schengen visa application received by all the Schengen consulates collectively.  

2020 Schengen Visa Statistics

  • In 2020, 3,000,000 Schengen visa applications (i.e. 3 million Schengen visa requests) were submitted to Schengen consulates and embassies around the world. While this might seem like a lot, this number pales in comparison to the number of Schengen visas and applications submitted in 2019, when the Schengen area received 17,000,000 applications.  
  • Based on the above statistics, the number of Schengen visa applications Filed in 2020 declined by 82% in 2020 (relative to 2019). 
  • In 2020, only 2,500,000 Schengen visas were issued (a decline of 83% from 2019 levels). 
  • While the number of visa applications submitted changed seriously from 2020 to 2019, the countries who submitted the greatest number of applications remained relatively the same (with differences discussed below). 
  • In 2020, the biggest source country for Schengen visa applications came from Russia (654,000), followed by Turkey and China. The country-leaders in Schengen visa applications were similar in 2019 as they were in 2020 
  • The countries that received the top five most Schengen visa applications in 2020 are as follows, with numbers: 
    1. Russia (654,000)
    2. Turkey (229,000)
    3. China (207,000) 
    4. India (168,000)
    5. Morocco (180,000)
  • The Schengen countries who were the biggest source country for Schengen visa applications (i.e. the countries that received the top five most Schengen visa applications in 2019 are as follows, with numbers: 
    • Russia (4,000,000)
    • China (3,000,000) 
    • India (1,000,000)
    • Turkey (900,000)
    • Morocco (700,000)
  • As you can see from a comparison of data from 2019 and 2020, the top five leaders in Schengen visa applications included the same group of countries, with some changes in order. 
  • Turkey surpassed both China and India in Schengen visa applications submitted in 2020. This fact is unsurprising given China’s crackdown on travel in or out of the country throughout its battle with COVID-19. The fact that Schengen visa applications declined in India is also unsurprising. In terms of COVID-19 infections and deaths, India continues to be one of the hardest hit countries in the world. While China has largely recovered from the virus, India continues to be overwhelmed with infections. As a result, while many Schengen countries currently allow the unrestricted entry of visitors from China, travelers from India continue to face a number of entry restrictions.  
  • Finally, the Schengen visa rejection rate in 2020 was greater than it was in 2019. This makes sense, given that in many cases, Schengen countries refused to issue Schengen visas except for urgent or essential reasons. 

Reasons for the decline

  • As previously explained, the decline in the number of Schengen visas issued and the number of Schengen visa applications submitted can be overwhelmingly attributed to the global coronavirus pandemic (which began in earnest in 2020) and the related entry restrictions for foreigners put in place throughout the Schengen area and around the world. 
  • Throughout 2020, the Schengen countries collectively and individually imposed a number of restrictions on the entry of non-residents and foreigners. These included travel bans on anyone arriving from certain countries, bans on all but essential travel, and onerous pre-flight and post-arrival restrictions on travelers allowed entry (which included—and in some cases to continues to include—mandatory COVID-19 tests and quarantines for arriving travelers). 
  • In addition to barriers to entry, the individual Schengen states upheld various internal restrictions, which majorly disrupted daily life inside the various countries— including curfews, occupancy limitations, and closures of all-but essential businesses and services. The almost complete shut-down of tourist attractions in the Schengen area, the widespread closure of restaurants, bars, and public venues, the ban on public gatherings—all of this provided decreased incentives for travel to the Schengen area throughout 2020. 
  • In addition to travel barriers and internal domestic restrictions, the decline in Schengen visa applications can also be attributed to the shut down or severe reduction in the operations of Schengen consulates around the world—many of which greatly reduced the number of Schengen visas issued (or stopped issuing new Schengen visas except in extreme (i.e. essential or urgent) cases.