As is known, on 8 July 2014 the European Union implemented, by Regulation 767/2008, the Visa Information System (VIS), which introduces the obligation for Member States to issue the so called “(short-term) Schengen visa” at external borders, subject to prior collection of biometric identifiers, with the consequence of considerably slowing down visa application processing times.

Due to the clear inconvenience caused to the maritime sector, on 16 June 2016 the Central Directorate for Immigration and Border Police launched an innovative IT system called “Shipping Agency Portal”, aimed at shortening the timeframes for collection by border guards of the data required for completing short-term visa application forms in relation to non-EU seafarers from ships calling at national ports.

 Access to the portal is restricted to shipping and forwarding agents and ship owner’s agents formally identified by ship owners and operators, who shall be specifically identified for each port. In order to access the Shipping Agency Portal, ship agents and ship owner’s agents will be required to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Public Security of the Ministry of the Interior.

Ship agents and ship owner’s agents will be allowed to perform data entry on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior, recording - for each visa application – the applicant’s personal details, travel documentation and photos as well as any information about the journey needed to leave the country.

Once all the required data has been entered, they will transmit all the relevant documentation to the competent Border Police Authority, which – through the Shipping Agency Portal – will be able to consult in real time all the data provided in the visa application and then call the applicant in order to collect fingerprints and implement the further controls required for issuing a visa. According to estimates provided by the Ministry, the new system is expected to reduce the amount of time needed for reviewing applications by almost 50%. 

Ship owners and operators will be required to identify the shipping and forwarding agents and ship owner’s agents to be accredited beforehand by the Ministry of the Interior and appointed by the same as “external personal data processor” pursuant to Article 29 of Legislative Decree No. 196/2993, in addition to the work stations to be certified and authorised to access the Shipping Agency Portal.

Consular fees shall be payable according to the current terms, even if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently exploring further regulatory changes that will allow online payment of such fees.