France to Issue Digital Schengen Visas for the Paris Olympics

| January 5, 2024
France to Issue Digital Schengen Visas for the Paris Olympics

France will become the first European Union (EU) member state to offer online Schengen visa applications

The French government had established an online application process for 70,000 digital Schengen visas. This aligns with the EU’s future visa application strategy.

The new digital system expects a surge in visa applications. These comprise athletes, officials, and visitors in the upcoming 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“[The system] is indeed necessary to guarantee the issuance of visas within timeframes compatible with the successful organization of the Games,” stated France’s Ministry of the Interior.

The 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games are scheduled in France from 26 July to 11 August and 28 August to 8 September 2024, respectively.

France is hosting the Olympic Games for the first time in a century. It will be home to the Paralympic Games for the first time in history.

The government deemed digital visas essential to manage the crowds more efficiently at the upcoming games. It is expecting approximately 1.5 million spectators.

Simplifying visas for Olympic participants

The French government’s “Olympic Consulate” system began operations on 1 January 2024. It focuses solely on processing visa applications for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

The system expects to handle applications from 15,000 international athletes, 9,000 journalists, and delegations from foreign countries participating in the upcoming sporting events. 

The goal is to simplify the visa application process. It also aims to avoid confusion caused by the current backlog of files being processed in French visa centers worldwide.

The newly-launched Olympic Consulate system operates through the France-Visas portal.

The portal will release accreditation cards with integrated digital visas instead of physical visa stamps.

Athletes and officials with valid multiple-entry Schengen visas will not need to apply for a separate French Schengen visa for the Olympic games. 

While these individuals can use their existing multiple-entry Schengen visa, they would still require accreditation for the games. 

This streamlines the process for visa holders while still enhancing security.

Digitizing the Schengen visa application process

The EU Council first approved the move to digitize the Schengen visa application process in November 2023. 

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 comprises the 23 EU member countries and neighboring countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

The new Schengen visa online platform is called the European Union Visa Application Platform or EU VAP. It is set to go online in 2026.

Almost all applications for digital Schengen visas will be made through the EU VAP. This is regardless of the applicant’s travel plans or purposes.

In-person appointments will no longer be necessary. The only exceptions are first-time applicants or those with invalid biometric data.

Those qualified to apply online will be able to complete their visa application, answer travel-related questions, and upload the required documents on the EU VAP platform. 

The platform will automatically forward the applications to the relevant member countries for processing.

Applicants will also be able to pay visa fees through an EU VAP-linked gateway. The payments will be transferred directly to the member state.

Digital future of travel

Apart from digitizing Schengen visa applications, the EU will also implement digital measures to secure its borders. 

The expected massive turnout at the Paris Olympics is a significant factor in the EU delaying the implementation of its new Entry/Exit system (EES).

The EES is an automated border system that records entries and exits electronically instead of stamping passports upon arrival at the border.

Starting in October 2024, visa-exempt travelers and those requiring a short-stay visa to enter the Schengen zone must submit fingerprints and facial biometrics at the border.

The EU’s new electronic travel permit system, the European Travel and Information and Authorization (ETIAS), will begin in mid-2025.

All foreign nationals who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area must obtain an ETIAS. 

France’s 2024 digital visa experimentation could be a significant step towards creating a more efficient digital EU immigration system.

With Schengen’s open internal borders, immigration policy coordination is crucial. Digital visas allow smoother enforcement and information sharing between Member States.

If successful, the Paris Olympics could demonstrate the benefits of digitization first-hand.