Schengen visa application process has been digitalised in a new era of convenience for travelers. This move eliminates the need for in-person appearances at consulates, streamlining and modernizing the application system for individuals intending to visit the Schengen area.
What is a Schengen Visa?
The Schengen visa is an authorization granted to non-Europeans for travel across the 27 countries within the Schengen Area. This zone, comprising 23 of the 27 EU members, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, facilitates seamless travel by eliminating internal border controls.
Types of Schengen Visas:
Airport Transit Visa (Type A): For non-Schengen citizens transiting through Schengen airports.
Short-stay Visa (Type C): For stays of less than 90 days.
Long-stay Visa (Type D): For individuals wishing to study, work, or reside in a Schengen country for over 90 days.
The New System: Digitalizing the Schengen Visa Application Process
Council’s Statement: The European Council’s recent approval of digitalization aims to render in-person appearances at consulates redundant, marking a significant shift in the visa application paradigm.
Platform Creation: A new online platform will be established for EU visa applications. Through this platform, applicants can input relevant data, upload electronic copies of travel documents and supporting materials, and complete the payment of visa fees.
Application Process Changes: The Council highlights that, with few exceptions, Schengen visa applications will transition to this new digital platform. In-person appearances will primarily be required for first-time applicants, individuals with expired biometric data, and those with a new travel document.
Digital Format and Security Measures: The proposed rules suggest issuing visas in a digital format, represented by a 2D barcode that is cryptographically signed. This not only enhances security by reducing risks related to counterfeit and stolen visa stickers but also marks the end of the traditional visa sticker.
Implications for Travelers
Automatic Determination of Responsible Member State: With the new system, when a person plans to visit multiple Schengen countries, the platform will automatically determine which member state is responsible for processing the application based on the intended duration of stay. However, applicants will still have the option to specify a particular member state based on the purpose of travel.
Comparable Systems Worldwide: Several countries, including Australia, have already implemented similar digital systems linking online visas directly to individuals’ passports. While citizens from over 60 countries are exempt from Schengen visa requirements for short visits, they will now need to apply online for pre-screened entry through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), resembling the U.S. ESTA system.
Enhanced Security Measures
Cryptographically Signed Barcodes: The shift to a cryptographically signed barcode for digital visas aims to enhance security measures, mitigating risks associated with counterfeit and stolen visa stickers. This innovation aligns with the evolving landscape of digital security in the 21st century.
Automation and Efficiency: The automated determination of the responsible member state and the digitization of visa processes contribute to increased efficiency in handling applications. The system not only streamlines the process for applicants but also facilitates better coordination among Schengen member states.
Rationale Behind the Change
Adapting to Challenges: The EU justifies this digital transition by citing recent migration and security challenges, coupled with the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The need for more digital procedures has become apparent, and this shift addresses both security concerns and the demand for streamlined operations.
Impact of COVID-19: The pandemic significantly slowed down traditional visa operations, making it imperative to adopt more resilient and adaptable systems. The digitalization of the Schengen visa application process aligns with global efforts to harness technology in overcoming challenges posed by unforeseen circumstances.
Future Prospects and Global Integration
Global Trend Towards Digitalization: The move towards a digital Schengen visa application process aligns with a broader global trend of countries embracing digital systems for border control and travel authorization. As technology evolves, nations are increasingly opting for secure, efficient, and convenient digital solutions.
EU Entry/Exit System (EES): All European Union visitors will now undergo processing through the automated EU Entry/Exit System (EES). This sophisticated system records details, biometric data, entry, and exit dates, enhancing the monitoring of overstays and refused entries.
Embracing the Digital Future of Travel
As the Schengen area pioneers a new era in visa application procedures, the digitalization of the process promises increased efficiency, enhanced security, and a more convenient experience for travelers. This strategic shift reflects the commitment of the European Union to adapt to contemporary challenges and align with global trends in harnessing technology for the advancement of border control and travel facilitation. The implementation of the digital Schengen visa application system not only signifies a technological milestone but also represents a significant step towards creating a more connected and secure global travel environment.