The European Union is one step closer to the digitalisation of Schengen Visa application procedures, after the Council of the EU approved last Monday two new regulations.
The bloc intends to start introducing a completely new system for obtaining a Schengen Visa by 2026, making it not only easier for millions of travellers to apply, but also less expensive and less time consuming.
The EU plans to make the procedures for applying for a short-term European visa completely online by 2028.
In 2026, the EU visa application platform and the digital visa would coexist. After the end of the transition period (end 2028), all visa applications would be lodged online through the EU visa application platform (except a few exceptional cases for which a paper procedure would remain possible).
Taking into account the pre-pandemic trend of visa applications, by the time this platform starts fully functioning in 2028, between 22 and 25 million visa applications worldwide will be processed through this system, saving applicants hours of hard work and money, and the Member States millions of euros in staff and resources.
According to Besart Bajrami, the founder of SchengenVisaInfo and VisaGuide.World, two leading visa platforms with an extensive annual readership surpassing 60 million, both travellers and the Member States will benefit from the platform, which he has called a revolution in the way the EU handles visas for visitors.
This is without a doubt a revolution in the sector of EU visa applications, which will completely reshape travellers’ experience on getting a Schengen visa, making it not only less expensive, but also less time and energy consuming, and thus less stressful. The platform will also eliminate the possibility of rejection for applying at the wrong embassy.
He also expects consulates to avoid backlog of visa applications and visa decisions to be delivered within the foreseen period. However, Bajrami is a bit skeptical, when it comes to the full functionalization of the platform by 2028.
Taking into account the way the ETIAS has been postponed continuously, even if we exclude the times it was postponed due to the pandemic, I can’t help it but doubt that travellers will be able to fully make use of this platform before 2030.
Back at the beginning of 2022, when the EU announced its plans for such a platform, it had claimed that the same will be ready by 2025. However, now the EU claims that the Member States will gradually start transitioning the in-person procedures online only in 2026, with the same expected to transition only in 2028 completely.
Following in this article, we will explain the main changes that are expected to gradually happen once the platform comes into effect in 2026, and what the EU expects to achieve.
Main Changes That Will Come With the Digitalisation of Visa Application Procedures
- It will be possible to complete all procedures in one single platform.
Regardless of the country or number of countries a traveller wishes to travel to, whether for tourism, to visit family members, or business, all applicants will have to file their request for a Schengen Visa through a single platform.
The platform, which hasn’t been developed yet, and its domain remains unknown, will then determine which Schengen country is responsible for processing the application, and then forward it to the respective authorities.
While very little is known about what information the platform will ask travellers about, it will be a must for every Schengen Visa applicant to give their:
- Name, surname, place and date of birth
- Passport information
- Dates of previous trips to the Schengen Area
- Information on previously held visas and trips made worldwide
Travellers will also have to answer questions on which country they wish to visit, how they plan to fund their trip future trip, their accommodation, flights, etc. It remains unknown how precisely travellers will be asked to provide proof for each of them.
- Applicants won’t have to collect and print a ton of documents anymore.
One of the main changes visa applicants will experience in the future when it comes to getting a Schengen visa will be the number of documents required. While proof on several aspects of the application will still be required, applicants will no longer have to present them physically, but instead, the digital form of them will be enough.
Travellers will have to upload the required documents to the platform, amongst which will be:
- Passport scan
- Digital biometric photos
- Proof on means of travel, i.e. flight tickets
- Proof of accommodation
Many of the criteria for Schengen visa application documents will remain the same, or at least similar, with the only switch being that they will no longer have to be printed.
- Visa fees will also be paid online through the same platform.
The EU will be investing millions in the new platform, and its maintenance in the near future. Yet, this will not affect Schengen visa fees, as they will remain the same as currently. Applicants’ payment method data will be secured at the highest levels.
- Only first-time applicants will have to apply in-person.
Some applicants will still have to show up in person at the visa centre, or consulate, in order to file an application. However, this is a limited list of only three groups:
- Those applying for a Schengen Visa for the very first time
- Those whose biometric data are not valid anymore
- Those who have a new travel document
Yet, even for those who have to show up at the visa centre in person, it will still be easier as they won’t have to wait for an appointment, or wait in line to submit their application due to crowds of people waiting to apply.
- Visa stickers will be replaced with digital barcodes.
And finally, travellers will no longer have visa stickers posted in their passport pages, as the same will be replaced with digital barcodes. The visa sticker will soon become a relict of the past, that avid travellers can keep as a ‘souvenir’ from their past trips,
What EU Intends to Achieve With the New Regulations of Online Schengen Visa Applications
- Reduce the costs and the burden on Member States as well as the applicants.
The first thing that the EU intends to achieve with its plan to digitalise the Schengen visa application process is reducing the costs and burden of those procedures on the Member States and their authorities.
Once the platform is introduced and launched, consulates will no longer have to hire tons of staff in order to deal with visa applications. Most contracts with third parties like the VFS Global, BLS International, VisaMetric, and TLS will be terminated or renewed in order to outsource fewer capacities to them.
At the same time, travellers will only have to pay the visa fee, thus saving their money on processing fees introduced by third parties, which sometimes are as high as the visa fee itself.
- Avoid so called ‘visa shopping’ by applicants.
The high number of applications has created a backlog at many Schengen consulates worldwide. In order to avoid them, applicants often lodge their visa request at the consulate of another Member State, which they do not plan on visiting. This is called ‘visa shopping’ and is highly condemned by the EU and its Member States.
The new Schengen visa platform will terminate this practice once and forever, as the system will automatically determine the authorities of which country are responsible for processing each visa application.
- Reduce security risks posed by the physical visa stickers, which are currently prone to falsification, fraud and theft and improve the overall security of the Schengen Area.
And the final and most important goal for the EU to achieve, is to make the Schengen Area a more secure zone not only for its citizens but also for travellers visiting. The Member States will soon ditch visa stickers, and instead, start issuing visas in digital format, as a 2D barcode, cryptographically signed, which will reduce security risks related to counterfeit and stolen visa stickers.