The Council of the European Union adopted Monday new rules for digitalizing the visa process. Now, those who plan to travel to Europe’s Schengen area can apply for a visa through an online platform.
The shift towards digitalization of the visa process, following the Council’s negotiating mandate earlier this year, aims to increase efficiency and improve security in the Schengen area, allowing travelers to replace their current visa stickers with a digital visa,the Council of the European Union said in a statement.
“The digital visa will also put an end to the risk of falsification and theft of the visa sticker,” said Maria Malmer Stenergard, Swedish Minister for Migration in the statement.
Amid an increase in migration and security challenges that have affected the EU’s visa policy alongside the slow-down of visa operations following the pandemic, the EU calls for an urgent need for digital procedures.
Once the EU visa application platform is set up, applicants will no longer need to have in-person appointments at consulates or service providers’ offices. The change will take effect after technical work on the visa platform and the digital visa concludes.
“Following signature, the two regulations will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and will enter into force on the twentieth day after publication,” the EU stated.
People applying for short stays spanning 90 days in the Schengen area, will be able to upload electronic copies of their travel documents, supporting documents and pay their visa fees. Once approved after database cross-checks, they will receive a cryptographically signed 2D barcode, according to the EU’s visa policy.
“It will simplify the application process for travellers and, at the same time, will ease the burden on national administrations,” said Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez, acting Spanish minister for the interior today in the statement.
The Schengen area comprises 23 of the 27 EU countries. Other neighboring countries such as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland also issue the Schengen visa while Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Ireland only issue national visas.
However, some first-time applicants will be required to make in-person visits in case their biometric data is no longer valid or they are travelling with a new travel passport or renewed visa.
Europe’s tourism recovery is maintaining its momentum despite economic headwinds, reaching about 95% of 2019 levels of international tourist arrivals, stated the European Travel Commission. Amid this surge in travel, the ultimate objective of the visa digitalization mandate is to develop the Union’s visa policy towards a secure way of managing third-country nationals from travelling to the Schengen area.
Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri, the UAE’s Economy Minister, said in October that GCC countries are planning to release a unified Gulf tourist visa between 2024 and 2025.
The new visa scheme will allow visa holders to travel across the six Gulf countries, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as per WAM.
This is in addition to the GCC countries’ joint tourism strategy 2023-2030 aimed for an annual increase of 7% in inbound travel to the region.