At the end of April 2022, the Commission proposed the digitalization of the Schengen visa process, replacing the visa sticker, and introducing the ability to submit visa applications online through a visa platform. This way, applying for a Schengen visa will become easier and the visa itself will be more secure and less vulnerable to theft and fraud.
The aim of developing a common solution to allow Schengen visa applications to be lodged online in was explicitly stated back in 2019 by the European Parliament and the Council. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the slowing down of Schengen visa operations worldwide partly due to the difficulty of receiving visa applicants in consulates and visa application centres, prompted to speed up work on the digitalization of visa procedures. Finally, the Pact on Migration and Asylum, proposed by the Commission in September 2020, set the objective of making the visa procedure fully digitalized by 2025, with the introduction of a digital visa and the ability to submit visa applications online.
Bringing the EU’s visa policy into the digital age is a welcomed and awaited step, as third-country visitors coming to the EU requiring a Schengen visa usually consider the visa application burdensome. By providing quick, safe and web-based EU visa application and payment platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require a short-term visa to stay in the Schengen area for a period not exceeding 90 days in any 180 days, the visa application process can be significantly improved. This is done by reducing the costs and the burden on Member States as well as the applicants, while also reducing security risks posed by the physical visa stickers, which could still be prone to falsification, fraud and theft. In addition, harmonizing and unifying visa application procedures within the Schengen area will help to avoid the so called “visa shopping” by applicants who may be tempted to lodge an application with a Schengen country that offers faster visa application processing than with a country that is actually their destination.
The Commission’s proposal will now have to be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council. The proposal, once voted, will be applied by the countries applying the Schengen acquis in full: the EU27 (except Ireland and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus as they are not applying the Schengen acquis in full) + Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland. This is 26 countries in total, who will then have five years to switch to the unified online visa platform. The development of the platform could start in 2024 and become operational in 2026. Considering the five-year transition period, following the gradual phasing out of the national portals, all Member States could use the platform in 2031.
By Gabriella Galik, Partner, KCG Partners Law Firm