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New visa rule: Schengen applications to move online for millions of visitors

The new digital application process is good news for millions of travellers
The new digital application process is good news for millions of travellers   -   Copyright  Canva pro / AnnaStills
By Charlotte Elton

The lengthy Schengen visa process is set to go completely online in the next few years.

The new digital system - proposed by the European Commission last week - will replace the tedious paper application process endured by millions of would-be visitors to Europe.

Travellers can expect a “smoother and more secure” system, the European Commission has promised.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,’ declared Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

So how will the new system work - and when should you start planning a Euro getaway?

Do you need a Schengen visa?

The Schengen visa allows travellers to stay for tourism or business in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in a 180 day period.

The travel area covers most EU countries, plus Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. EU countries Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania are excluded.

Canva pro/ Anyka
The current Schengen application process requires in-person visits to embassiesCanva pro/ Anyka

Most foreign nationals must obtain the visa to visit the travel area, including visitors from India, China, and South Africa.

The full list of countries who need a Schengen visa is available here. Americans, Brits, and Australians are amongst those exempt from the visa rules.

In 2019, over 15 million people used Schengen visas to travel around Europe.

How do you apply for a Schengen visa?

At the moment, would be visitors must submit their application at the consulate of the country they intend to spend the most time in during their trip.

They must then return, in person, to pick up their passports when the physical visa sticker has been added.

According to the Commission, this process “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The visa processing time ranges from two weeks to 60 days.

The tedious bureaucratic process must evolve, declared European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one third have to travel long distances to ask for a visa,” she said.

“It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU.”

How will the digital Schengen system work?

In The New Pact on Migration and Asylum, the European Commission outlined a goal to “fully digitise” visa procedures by 2025.

Visa applicants will be able to apply - and pay - for a visa through a single online EU platform. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country is responsible for examining an application. At the moment, the paper procedure can be confusing for applicants who intend to visit multiple European countries. Under the digital system, applicants who miss out information and documents will be automatically notified, saving them hours of hassle. 

When issued, the visa will no longer be granted as a physical sticker. Instead, it will be provided as a cryptographically signed 2D bar-code.

First time applicants will still have to visit a consulate for the collection of biometric identifiers.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but will likely sail through. It will be tabled in parliament at some point in the next few months.

With hassle-free travel on the horizon, it could be time to start planning your dreamEuropean holiday.