On April 27, 2022, the European Commission – the executive arm of the European Union – proposed the digitalization of the Schengen visa process. If implemented, the proposal would enable an online visa application platform and replace visa stickers in passports with a secure electronic status. Applicants may still need to visit consular posts to submit biometric data, such as fingerprints. Under the Commission’s proposal, Schengen Area member countries would have five years from the date of implementation to switch to the digitalized visa platform.
Background: Schengen Visas
The Schengen Area is a free movement zone comprised of twenty-six European countries that have agreed to function as a single jurisdiction for purposes of passport and border controls. The area covers more than 400 million EU citizens and includes all EU member states except Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania. Non-EU member states – namely Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein – are also part of the Schengen Area.
A Schengen visa is a short-stay visa issued by a Schengen member state that allows the visa holder to move about the Schengen Area without being subject to additional border controls. Specifically, a Schengen visa holder is authorized to stay in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within any 180-day period. Individuals must typically apply for a Schengen visa at the embassy or consulate of a Schengen member state abroad; successful applicants then receive a physical visa sticker in their passport. At present, nationals of 102 countries require a Schengen visa for short-stay visits to the Schengen Area.
Digitalization of the Schengen Visa
Under the Commission’s proposal, the need to apply for a Schengen visa at a member state’s embassy or consulate would be eliminated, as would the physical visa sticker in the individual’s passport. Instead, applicants would apply for a Schengen visa through a single online platform, regardless of which country they wish to visit. If the application is approved, the visa would be issued as a secure online status, rather than a physical visa sticker.
Before the Commission’s proposal is adopted, it must first be negotiated with the European Parliament and EU member states. Based on the outcome of negotiations, the Commission expects to implement a secure online platform by 2026. Member states would then have until 2031 to begin utilizing the platform.