European Interest

MEPs approve proposal to digitalise visa procedures

Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0
Schengen arrival gate at the Rīga Airport (RIX), Latvia.

A report adopted by MEPs on Tuesday seeks to streamline visa application procedures in the Schengen area by moving from physical visa stickers and applications to a digital system.

On Tuesday, MEPs sitting on the Civil Liberties Committee adopted a report on the digitalisation of the visa procedure with 34 votes in favour, 5 against, and 20 abstaining. MEPs also authorised the start of interinstitutional negotiations with the Council of the EU on the final form of the law with 57 votes in favour, 1 against, and 2 abstaining.

After the launch of the Visa Information System (VIS) and other databases in the field of justice and home affairs, parts of the visa procedure in the EU have been digitalised, but the visa applications and stickers given to successful applicants remain in analogue form. The latest revision of the EU’s Visa Code explicitly provided for a possibility to sign applications electronically, paving the way for a fully-digitised visa application procedure.

By digitalising the visa application process for the Schengen area, the proposal aims to reduce the costs and efforts required to make an application, while ensuring harmonious practises throughout Europe and improving its security. Visa applications would be processed on a single online platform that would also tell applicants which country will receive their application (in the case of multi-country trips). The new system is also designed to work harmoniously with the EU’s ecosystem of border management systems and databases.

Language, disability or poor connectivity should not hold back applicants

In their adopted position ahead of negotiations with the Council of the EU, MEPs introduced certain amendments to the Commission proposal. To ensure that as many people as possible can access the digital visa system, MEPs want to see increased language options and safeguards for people with disabilities and those lacking in digital literacy. They also want to make sure that visa applications are not refused because many of them are logged from the same IP address, which may be the case in areas with poor internet connectivity. Highlighting the sensitivity of IP address data, MEPs also argue that IP addresses should not be collected or processed as part of the visa application.

After the vote, rapporteur Matjaž Nemec (S&D, SI) said: “We want to deliver a modern, user-friendly digital solution for EU visa applications, along with simplified application procedures. Replacing the visa sticker with a digital visa would also reduce security risks posed by physical stickers, and a unified system would help people see the EU as a single geographical entity. In my report, I have sought to ensure the new system is even more applicant-friendly, by removing barriers stemming from language, disability status, lack of digital skills or poor internet connectivity, and to ensure that applicants’ data is more secure by introducing additional processing safeguards.”

The interinstitutional negotiations on the file will be announced at the European Parliament plenary, and if there no objections, negotiations on the final details of the legislation can begin.

Explore more