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Schengen visas going online: will digitalisation of the process make our lives easier?

At the end of April 2022, the European Commission announced an ambitious plan to digitalise the process of Schengen visa applications. The main change consists in the fact that the entire application process, the payment of fees and the automatic decision from the system will be done online. This proposal now must be supported by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

Roots of the proposal

The digitalisation of the Schengen visa application process was first proposed during the Estonian Council presidency in 2017. Since then, April’s reveal has been the first step towards its implementation. The situation around the COVID-19 pandemic raised voices among the member states to accelerate the negotiations concerning this particular area of digitalisation. This proposal aims to make travelling around the Schengen area easier and reduce administrative costs. Moreover, the Commission believes it has come up with a modern and more secure way of travelling for third-country nationals.

This proposal goes hand-in-hand with the strategy of easing but at the same time strengthening the crossings of the Schengen area borders. European Council adopted a regulation called ETIAS (European travel information and authorisation system) earlier in 2018. This system will force third-country nationals that are enjoying a visa-free stay in the Schengen area to apply for travel permission that will be evaluated automatically by the system and should monitor individuals entering the area. You can find more information in our previous article here.

What are the next steps in the procedure?

The digitalisation proposal should ideally become operational by 2026. Once the Parliament and Council approve the proposal, the member states will have 5 years to implement the novel into their own visa procedures. It means that by 2031, all Schengen states should issue visas via this new platform. From that point forward, all visa applications should be processed digitally, including submissions and decision-making. Exceptions for paper applications can be made in individual cases. Unfortunately, those whose biometrics are not valid will have to attend the Visa Centre of the respective Embassy to submit them. For those exceptions, online booking of appointments will be possible.

The online platform should also be able to decide in the cases where the foreign national is visiting multiple EU countries. In that case, the program will specify the country which will be responsible for the decision-making. Moreover, when the applicants are not able to apply themselves (typically minors), the respective representative should apply on their behalf. The platform will also be able to notify the applicant about missing or incorrect information in the online application, which will help the process to proceed as smoothly as possible. At the end of the process, an automatic notification will be sent to the applicant about the decision made.

Since it is just a proposal that must be supported by other large EU bodies, there is still a long way to go. However, the online platform is supposed to start in 2024 and become operational in 2026. The online visa application should be fully functional in 2031 and ease the process a lot.

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