People applying for Schengen visas may soon be able to do so online, as the European Commission reveals plans to simplify the process.
Schengen visas enable people from non-EU countries which do not have a visa-free travel agreement to circulate in the Schengen area – including France – for up to 90 days in any 180 for tourism or business, or for airport transit.
Citizens of countries including the UK, the US and Australia travelling for these purposes do not need to apply for a Schengen visa because they have a visa-free travel agreement with the EU which automatically provides the same rights.
However, people from countries such as South Africa, India and 100 other countries do need to obtain this type of visa.
Under the digital system, repeat visa applicants would be able to visit a single EU platform where they could check visa requirements, upload their documents, pay and follow the progress of their application. It may also be possible to extend a visa through this website.
The current sticker visa which is placed inside people’s passports would therefore become digital, and thus less likely to be forged or stolen.
“The digital visa will be an electronic record in the Visa Information System and thus the visa will no longer have any physical features that can be tampered with,” the European Commission has said.
However, people applying for the first time, those with new travel documents and those whose biometric data has reached the end of its validity period would still have to go to the consulate or visa centre to provide this information, even after submitting their application online.
A potential start date of 2026
The initiative is still waiting for approval from the European Parliament and European Council, but could theoretically come into effect in 2026, with all member states using it by 2031.
Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said: “A modern visa process is crucial to make travel to the EU easier for tourism and business.
“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.
“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 a short-term visa to travel to the EU.”
The Schengen visa system is not the same as the European Travel Information System (Etias), through which non-EU travellers who are exempt from visas will have to apply for prior authorisation before entering the bloc.
It is also not the same as the long-stay visas British citizens can apply for before an extended trip to France, for example.
The EU is eager to move Schengen visa applications online following the Covid pandemic, which slowed down operations across the world as people were prevented from going to consulates in person.
While the majority of applications would be submitted online under the new system, people would still be able to go to a consulate or visa centre if it is impossible for them to carry out the process via the website.
The use of any existing national visa application portals will be phased out in favour of the EU-wide platform.
The European Commission’s proposals are currently subject to a public consultation period, which ends on June 24.
If you would like to give feedback, you can do so by visiting the Commission website.