In a significant move toward modernization, EU foreign ministers have announced a shift in the visa application process for those intending to visit Europe’s Schengen area. The change involves transitioning the entire process into an online platform, eliminating the need for physical stickers in passports and ending the requirement for consulate or service provider appointments.
This revolutionary change, unveiled after an extensive legislative process, is anticipated to become effective after the completion of technical work on the visa platform, a process expected to span several months, and subsequent publication in the EU’s administrative gazette.
The Schengen area comprises 23 out of the 27 EU member countries, along with associated neighbors Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.
Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, under whose presidency the change was introduced, emphasized that the online visa system “will simplify the application process for travelers.”
Under this forthcoming system, individuals applying for short stays in the Schengen area will utilize the online platform to upload necessary documents, data, and electronic copies of their travel documents, including biometric information, and complete fee payments. If approved following cross-checks in databases, applicants will receive a cryptographically signed barcode, either for printing or storing in a digital device.
Although the majority of applicants will enjoy a fully digital process, it’s noted that first-time applicants or those with a new passport or modified biometric data may still be required to attend an in-person appointment.
While several countries, including Australia, already employ similar systems where online visas are directly linked to a person’s passport without the need for a physical sticker, this represents a significant step for the Schengen area.
For citizens from over 60 countries worldwide, including Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, who generally don’t need Schengen visas for short visits, a new system known as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) is also in the works. Similar to the U.S. ESTA system, ETIAS is expected to be operational by mid-2025, offering a pre-screened entry process for eligible travelers.
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