The European Commission has revealed its plan to digitalize the Schengen visa. This will replace the mostly paper-based application system to obtain a visa for EU and Schengen countries currently in place.
This means the Schengen visa will soon be available through a simplified online application process, similar to the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) due to launch in late 2022.
At the moment, the proposal is currently being debated by the European Parliament and Council. Development on the online Schengen visa system is expected to begin in 2024. The platform is intended to be fully operational by 2026.
Individual Schengen member states will then have 5 years to transition from current visa application methods to the new unified systems. This means that all Schengen visa applications could be processed digitally by 2031.
Why the EU has decided to Digitalize the Schengen Visa
The main reason that the EU Commission has decided to bring the Schengen visa online is that the current application method is considered outdated.
Many Schengen countries still require visa applicants to travel to an embassy or consulate in person to submit an application and receive a physical visa sticker on their passport.
This inconvenient application process was only highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic when it was virtually impossible to physically attend an embassy appointment. This led to a slow down in Schengen visa operations worldwide.
Additionally, some individual Schengen Area countries have already created their own digital portals to receive visa applications. The problem is that these online platforms are not unified and have led to the practice of ‘visa shopping’.
This practice involves travelers submitting applications to EU countries other than those other than their destination because the process is faster. These problems have led to renewed calls from member states to accelerate the Schengen visa digitization process.
Responsibility for Creating the Digital Schengen Visa Platform
The digitalization of the Schengen visa is being handled by EU-LISA, The European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice.
The cost of creating the platform is an estimated €33.8 to €41.2 million. Yearly costs are expected to be between €10.5 to €12.8 million.
It is estimated that each EU state will initially need to invest between €2.5 million to €3 million and then €270,000 and €330,000 yearly.
This is a significant investment, but most member states are in agreement that the platform is long overdue and necessary in the long-term. The Commission has also stressed that costs will depend on the number of visa applications received per year.
How the Electronic Schengen Visa Application Will Work
The online platform will allow travelers to submit an application for a Schengen visa in one place, regardless of their Schengen Area destination country or the visa type they are applying for.
The applicant will be able to upload any necessary supporting documents in digital format. They will also be able to pay the Schengen visa fee online through a secure payment system.
If the applicant intends to visit more than one Schengen country, the platform will automatically determine which Schengen country is responsible for processing the application. The request will then be passed to the relevant national authority.
Most applicants will be able to complete the process entirely online. Only first-time applicants or those whose biometric data is outdated will need to travel to an embassy to supply biometric identifiers.
Who Can Use the Online Schengen Visa Application
All foreign citizens who require a visa for any of the 26 Schengen countries will be able to use the digital Schengen visa application once it is implemented. The platform will not be applied to the remaining 5 non-Schengen EU countries, including Ireland.
Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, which are pending members of the Schengen Area, will also not be included in the platform. This is because they do not yet have the power to issue Schengen visas.
Travelers from countries visa-exempt for the Schengen Area will not be required to use the platform. Instead, these travelers will be required to submit an ETIAS authorization application to travel to Europe by the end of 2022.