The European Union (EU) revealed the name of the digital Schengen visa application platform and a transition period that would span seven years.
In November, the EU agreed to adopt the new digitalization of the Schengen visa application process.
A Schengen visa is a short-stay permit allowing travel within the EU’s Schengen area countries for up to 90 days within a 180-day period.
The Schengen Common Travel Area includes 23 EU member countries and neighbouring countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
On 7 December 2023, the European Commission released legislation amendments to allow online applications for Schengen visas.
“To make the Schengen visa application process smoother and more effective for third-country nationals and Member State authorities, it is necessary to allow Schengen visa applications to be lodged online,” the amendment read.
The digital Schengen visa application platform
According to the amendments published in EUR-Lex, the new Schengen visa online platform is called the European Union Visa Application Platform or EU VAP.
Like other official EU websites, the EU VAP will be under the domain “.Europe.eu.” The exact website address has yet to be released as the platform is still under development.
The new laws allow member countries seven years to transition from traditional in-person Schengen visa applications to the EU VAP.
“That transitional period should be for seven years from the date of the start of operations,” the new regulation stated.
During the transition, EU member countries have the option to use the EU VAP or continue issuing traditional visas.
This means some EU Member states will be able to transition to using the EU VAP sooner than others.
If an EU member state wants to opt in and use the EU VAP, it should notify the Commission and eu-LISA.
The eu-Lisa is the European Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice.
The revised regulations allow the EU VAP to co-exist with other EU systems like the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and the Entry-Exit System (EES).
The amendments also consider the existing technological restrictions and EU member countries’ investments in their national systems.
What is a digital Schengen visa?
The digital Schengen visa will be in the form of a 2D barcode cryptographically signed by the Country Signing Certificate Authority of the issuing Member State.
Its digital format will include the face of the visa holder, personal details, issuing country, and other pertinent information.
If applicable, a digital Schengen visa may also include visa conditions or indicate if the holder is a family member of an EU or United Kingdom (UK) citizen.
It will also be printable.
One platform for all visa applications, procedures
All travelers applying for a digital Schengen visa will be able to use the EU VAP, regardless of how many countries they plan to visit or their travel purposes.
The platform will automatically forward applications to relevant member countries to process the visa application.
On the EU VAP, applicants will be able to complete their application, answer travel-related questions, and upload the required documents.
Travelers’ data will only be stored temporarily in the system as required to complete application tasks.
Electronic payment details will not be part of the Visa Information System.
Still, applicants will be able to pay for Schengen visa fees online through an EU VAP-linked gateway. The platform will transfer payments directly to the relevant member state.
If electronic online payment isn’t possible, consulates or authorized visa centers can collect the fees.
Travelers will be notified electronically about any updates or new information regarding their application or visa status.
With the EU VAP, in-person appointments will no longer be necessary except for a few exemptions.
First-time applicants, individuals with invalid biometric data, and those with new travel documents will still need to visit consulates or visa centers.
How will the EU VAP affect ETIAS?
A Schengen visa is a short-stay permit for nationals who need a visa to enter the EU’s Schengen Area. It is equivalent to the UK’s Standard Visitor Visa for travelers who need a visa to visit the UK.
The move to digital Schengen visa applications does not affect visa-exempt nationals. These travelers do not require a visa to visit the Schengen Area for short trips.
However, visa-exempt nationals must apply online for an ETIAS, a new digital permit system, to enter the Schengen Area.
The ETIAS is set to launch in mid-2025.
The ETIAS is similar to the UK Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA). Visa-exempt nationals, such as EU citizens, must have an ETA to travel to England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
By 2024, ETA online applications will be available for all visa-exempt nationals.
Both the ETIAS and the ETA aim to enhance border security and streamline border controls.
What’s next for the digital Schengen visa?
After releasing new regulations, the EU will focus on the next steps. These include putting up the domain, developing the EU VAP itself, and testing the system.
EU member countries must also decide whether to use the EU VAP or stick to traditional visas. The shift to digital visa applications involves training and making necessary technological investments in their national portals.