GCC, home to countries with high applications per capita, to benefit
Ushering in a new era, the Council of the European Union (EU) has recently greenlit the introduction of an online Schengen visa application process. With this strategic shift, people wishing to visit Schengen countries will have to apply via a dedicated platform.
Once the platform launches, the EU expects to receive 18 to 20 million visa applications worldwide. This forecast takes into account pre-pandemic application figures.
The Schengen Area comprises 27 nations, including Spain, France, Portugal, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
According to Spain’s Acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska,“The possibility of applying for a Schengen visa online will be a great improvement for citizens and the processing of the application.” Currently, Spain holds the EU presidency.
“It will simplify the application process for travelers and, at the same time, will ease the burden on national administrations, which will be able to respond more quickly and effectively,” he added.
In a collective statement, EU Parliament Members said, “The new system is also designed to work harmoniously with the EU’s ecosystem of border management systems and databases.”
With the online Schengen visa processing, applicants will soon be able to fill out relevant information more efficiently and upload digital copies of pertinent documents. Additionally, the platform will be able to cater to online payments for visa fees.
Moreover, it will provide applicants with information on the specific country that will receive their application, especially for those with multi-country trips.
This updated system will also eliminate in-person visits to consulates for the majority of applications. Exceptions cover first-time applicants and those with new travel documents. This specific rule will also not be applicable to people with expired biometric data.
Another key rule is the replacement of visa stickers with cryptographically signed barcodes. The EU asserts that this transition can better mitigate security risks associated with counterfeit and stolen visa stickers.
These new rules will take effect 20 days after the publication of the signed regulations in the EU’s official journal.
Schengen and GCC
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is expected to benefit from this welcome development as the region is home to countries with some of the highest Schengen visa applications per capita.
Kuwait leads the GCC with 3,426 applications for every 100,000 residents in 2022. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain follow with 2,939, 1,967 and 1,307 applications per capita, respectively.
In 2022, the consulates of the EU and Schengen Associated Countries processed over 7.5 million short-stay visa applications across the globe. This marks a substantial 258 percent rise from 2021’s 2.9 million.
In related news, GCC has also recently approved a unified Schengen-style visa. This will grant visa holders access to the six member states, which also include Saudi Arabia and Oman. It will be launched from 2024 to 2025.