The European Union (EU) has announced it is making changes to the EU visa policy. It aims to make procedures faster and more flexible for travelers. The reforms will change a number of things, including the processing time of applications, how much they will cost, and the validity of EU visas.
The processing time for EU visa applications will be reduced from 15 to days. It will also be possible for visitors to submit their application up to six months before their trip. Currently, the limit is three months).
Travelers will also be able to complete the visa application electronically. This will save the hassle of physically going to an embassy or consulate to submit applications. It will still be necessary to provide fingerprints.
The rules surrounding multiple-entry visas will change. Trusted regular travelers to the EU will be able to obtain increasingly longer visas. The validity of the visas will start at one year and gradually extend to five years. This will reduce costs and save time for both EU member states and travelers to the region.
There will be new short-term visas issued at the external borders of the Schengen Area to facilitate tourism. The EU visas will be valid for a maximum of seven days. They will only allow tourists to visit the member state which issued the EU visa.
The main negative point for visitors to the EU is that the fess will increase by around 25%. The EU said: "This (the fee increase) will allow Member States to maintain adequate levels of consular staff worldwide to ensure stronger security screenings as well as the upgrading of IT equipment and software."
Strengthening Schengen's external borders
As well as facilitating tourism to the Schengen Area, the new policies aim to increase the region's security. "The Commission is today proposing to reform the EU's common visa policy to adapt the rules to evolving security concerns, challenges linked to migration and new opportunities offered by technological developments," the announcement said.
"The proposed changes will make it easier for legitimate travelers to obtain a visa to come to Europe, facilitate tourism, trade, and business whilst reducing security and irregular migration risks," they said.
All applications will be carefully screened against relevant security databases and everyone will be required to provide fingerprints. The EU Commission said: "The EU is upgrading its information systems for border management in order to close information gaps and enhance internal security."
"The recent adoption of the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information Authorisation System (ETIAS) – will be yet another building block towards making the EU's information systems interoperable," the Commission said.
Boosting tourism in Europe
Tourism plays a key role in the European economy, accounting for around 10% of the EU's GDP. The number of EU visa applications has risen by 50% since 2009 but the application system had not been updated since 2010. The described the current procedure as "lengthy, cumbersome, and simply out of date." They said that this can deter tourists from traveling to Europe, directing investment and spending to other countries and affecting the EU's economy negatively.
"In addition, the environment in which visa policy operates has drastically changed over the past years. This is why the benefits of visa travel need to be balanced with improved migration, security, and border management to adequately respond to present and future security and migration challenges," they said.