The European Council has just adopted new rules on the digitalisation of the application procedure for Schengen visa, giving the final green light for the process to go ahead.
“The possibility of applying for a Schengen visa online will be a great improvement for citizens and for the processing of the application. It will simplify the application process for travellers and, at the same time, will ease the burden on national administrations, which will be able to respond more quickly and effectively”, said Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez, acting Spanish minister for the interior.
The new rules will create a visa application platform. All applications for Schengen visas will be made through this platform, a single website, which will forward them to the relevant national visa systems. On this platform, applicants will be able to introduce all relevant data, upload electronic copies of their travel and supporting documents and pay the visa fees. They will also be notified of the decisions concerning their visa thorough the same platform. In-person appearance at consulates will however still be necessary for first-time applicants, persons whose biometric data are no longer valid or those with a newly issued travel document.
The regulations will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and will enter into force on the twentieth day after publication, however the actual date Schengen visas will become a cryptographically signed barcode instead of the current sticker is dependent on the technical work that needs to be conducted on the visa platform.
The European Commission submitted the legislative proposal for digitalising the visa procedure in April 2022. “A modern visa process is crucial. It’s time to provide a fast, secure, web-based application platform for citizens of the 102 third countries that require a short-term visa to travel to the EU”, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said at the time.
In March 2023, EU Member States’ ambassadors agreed the Council’s negotiating mandate for a proposal to digitalise the visa procedure, bringing the digital Schengen visa one step closer to reality. In June 2023, both the European Parliament and Council provisionally agreed on rules to digitalise the visa procedure, which have finally been officially adopted by the Council.
Unfortunately, a digital Schengen visa might be a long wait if the technical work for the platform will be conducted at a similar pace as the online visa-waiver system, ETIAS, which will be used by travellers outside the EU who are exempt from visas but need to apply for travel authorization, or the Entry Exit System, which will be used by third countries with no visa exemption arrangements, both of which having been delayed multiple times.