The European Commission has announced plans to digitize the Schengen visa application process, making it faster and easier for non-EU citizens to apply for visas to travel to European countries.
Under the plans, announced in late April, the Schengen visa application process would be completely digital, allowing applicants to apply for a visa online through a unified EU internet platform, regardless of the Schengen country they wish to visit.
Margaritis Schinas, vice president for promoting our European way of life, said, “We are bringing EU visa policy into the digital age. Given that some member states are already switching to digital, it is vital that the Schengen area now moves forward as one.”
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.Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs
Currently, certain non-EU citizens have to go to a consulate to submit an application and then obtain a sticker in their passport, but the EU has long been committed to the project of adopting digital visas, on the grounds that they are less vulnerable to counterfeiting.
The new visa application platform would contain up-to-date information on visa requirements and allow applicants to create an account, complete an application form, upload their documents and pay for the visa.
Applicants would be able to log back in to check the status of their application and receive updates. It would also be possible to extend the visa, if necessary, online. The platform will determine which Schengen country is responsible for examining an application.
Half of those coming to the EU on a Schengen visa find visa application burdensome, one third have to travel long distances to apply for a visa.Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs
However, first-time applicants, individuals with new travel documents and previous applicants whose biometrics have expired will still need to apply in person at their local consulate to submit new biometric identifiers.
The new system, which would provisionally come into force in 2026, still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Once approved, online applications for Schengen visas will be possible for all countries in the border-free zone, which includes most EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
The new Schengen visa system is different from ETIAS (European Travel Information System), which is currently under development. ETIAS will be used by travelers outside the EU who are exempt from visas but need to apply for travel authorization to come to the EU.
Most foreign nationals must obtain the visa to visit the Schengen area, including those from China, Brazil and South Africa. According to Euronews, over 15 million people used Schengen visas to travel around Europe in 2019.