EU Visa Policy: Commission welcomes agreement on upgrading the Visa Information System
Source: European Commission Spokesperson's Service
Today, the European Parliament and the Council reached a provisional agreement on the Commission's proposal to revise and upgrade the Visa Information System (VIS). The new rules agreed today will allow for more thorough background checks on applicants for visa and residence permits, better information exchange between Member States on holders of such documents, and will ensure full interoperability with other EU-wide databases.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: "Strong external borders require up-to-date and interoperable IT systems to keep track of arrivals in the Schengen area. In normal times, millions of visas are issued to non-EU nationals – a sign of Europe's attractiveness for business, tourism or studies. The upgraded Visa Information System will contribute to making our borders more secure, by contributing to the assessment of risks and giving border guards better access to information. Together with the other new and upgraded information systems, the new Visa Information System should be operational and fully interoperable by the end of 2023."
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson said: "A modern and secure visa process is crucial to welcome legitimate travellers while keeping Europe safe. The upgraded Visa Information System will remove blind spots and give visa authorities and border guards access to the information they need to do their jobs properly. The revised system will contain robust data protection safeguards, particularly for protecting biometric data of children. By doing so, we strike a crucial balance between limiting the access to biometric data of children and fighting against child trafficking."
Enhancing security and closing information gaps
Under the rules agreed today, the upgraded VIS database will enhance internal security and improve border management through the following measures:
- Enhanced security checks across all databases: all visa applications recorded in the VIS will now be automatically checked against all other EU information systems for security and migration, such as the Entry-Exit System (to become operational in 2022), the Schengen Information System and the European Criminal Records Information System on non-EU citizens through the European Search Portal. This obligatory cross-check will detect applicants using multiple identities and identify anyone posing risks in terms of security or non-respect of migration rules;
- Better data and information exchange: Currently no information is held at EU level on long-stay visas and residence permits. The upgraded VIS database will extend its scope to include such information. This will allow border guards to quickly determine whether a long-stay visa or a residence permit used to cross the Schengen external borders is valid and in the hands of its legitimate holder, thus closing an important security gap.
- More efficient return procedures: From now on, copies of the applicant's travel document will also be included in the VIS database. This measure, coupled with the authorisation for Frontex teams to have access to the VIS, will facilitate the identification and readmission of people subject to a return procedure who do not have travel documents, thereby increasing the efficiency of the EU's return policy;
- Strengthened capacity to prosecute and prevent crime: Law enforcement authorities and Europol will now have a more structured access to the VIS for the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious crimes, under strict conditions and in full respect of the EU's data protection rules. Access to the VIS will be also opened to law enforcement authorities for the purpose of searching for or identifying missing or abducted persons and victims of trafficking.
The Visa Information System is an EU database which connects border guards at the EU's external borders with Member States' consulates across the world. It was first rolled out worldwide in 2015. It provides visa-issuing authorities with key information on applicants for short-stay Schengen visas while allowing border guards to detect travellers that may pose security risks. The new rules agreed today will expand the scope of the system – notably by adding applicants and holders of long stay-visas and residence permits – in full respect of data protection principles, to ensure that the relevant authorities have the information they need, when they need it.
The proposal is the second step of the reform of the common EU visa policy and follows the amendments to the Visa Code, which became effective on 2 February 2020 and introduced a link between cooperation on readmission and visa issuance. The next step, as already announced by the Commission, will be to make the visa procedure fully digitalised by 2025, with a digital visa and the ability to submit visa applications online. eu-LISA is the EU Agency that will be responsible for the development and management of the upgraded VIS database.
The common EU visa policy facilitates travel to the EU. In 2019, 15 million Schengen visas were issued for short stay visits (see the latest statistics on Schengen visas).
The EU is upgrading its information systems for security and border management in order to close information gaps and enhance internal security. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum underlined the importance of well-managed EU external borders, relying on the full interoperability of EU IT systems, to safeguard the integrity and functioning of a Schengen area without internal border controls.
For More Information
Factsheet – An upgraded Visa Information System (VIS)