The European Union visa policy is changing. A number of new initiatives were proposed in 2016 and agreed upon by the European Council and European Parliament, including the introduction of the Entry-Exit System (EES) and the ETIAS visa waiver system.

This has led the European Union Commission to make changes to the EU visa policy in order to accommodate these new schemes and maintain a strong, efficient, and secure Europe.

Amendments to the EU Common Visa Policy

The visa rules for Europe are being updated in several ways to increase security and help to prevent health threats to the bloc. The new initiatives, such as the upcoming EU visa waiver, ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System), will help to make travelling to Europe safer and easier for tourists and business visitors as well as controlling irregular migration.

The amendments to the EU Common Visa Policy were announced by the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Avramopoulos stated that the proposed reforms for Europe’s visa rules will improve cooperation with non-EU countries and allow tourists who follow the proper procedures for European visa application and regulations, to be considered for certain benefits.

Travel and tourism account for 10% of the European Union’s GDP. Due to this, a stable and secure EU visa system is a priority for member states.

The upcoming changes to the European Union visa policy include the following:

  • The decision time for visa applications will be reduced from 15 to 10 days to speed up the process.
  • Foreign nationals will be able to apply for a Schengen visa6 months prior to their visit instead of the current 3 months.
  • EU visa applications will be available online, including an electronic signature.
  • When the ETIAS is launched, travellers from visa waiver countries will be able to register with the system online.

What is the impact of ETIAS on the European Union Visa Policy?

As part of an EU initiative to improve tourism and trade throughout the territory, a common European Union visa policy was introduced, which created a standard set of visa rules for Europe. This facilitates travel and commerce between countries.

However, to improve security measures, Europe has recently decided to develop a new program to offer a travel authorization to Europe for travellers from outside the EU. Set to be implemented in 2022, this new visa waiver is called the European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS.

To understand completely what impact ETIAS will have on the EU common visa policy, it is important to first understand what is meant by both these terms:

  • ETIAS is the EU’s equivalent of the Australian ETA and the US ESTA visa waiver and is designed to increase security on border controls and immigration for the Schengen Area.
  • The EU common visa policy is the strategy employed in the border-free Schengen zone regarding the visa rules for Europe

The European Union visa policy outlines 2 lists of nationalities:

  • Countries whose citizens can travel to and around the EU with a Schengen visa
  • Countries whose citizens can currently travel without a visa for Europe

Travellers from the second category will be required to apply for an ETIAS for Europe via an online platform once the system is implemented.

What ETIAS means for the EU Common Visa Policy?

ETIAS will not change the visa rules for Europe, i.e. it will not affect the countries who must apply for a Schengen visa.

However, the introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorization System will create an additional entry requirement for citizens of those countries who currently travel to Europe visa-free.

Visitors of these nationalities will have to register their details with ETIAS before leaving their country of residence in order to receive authorization to enter countries within the Schengen Area without a visa.

ETIAS is a travel authorization system for eligible citizens to register online, not a typical travel visa which requires applicants to go to a consulate or embassy. The visa waiver system is being introduced as an extra security measure and will not affect eligible ETIAS countries nor their citizens’ right to travel to the Schengen region of Europe.

The main aim of the EU in implementing the ETIAS travel authorization is to increase security in border controls and immigration. This will benefit not only citizens of the EU but also the visa-free travellers who visit Europe.

According to the European Union visa policy, the difference between citizens who require an ETIAS and a Schengen visa will remain the same, with eligible ETIAS countries being granted more freedom and access to the EU zone than those countries that require visa travel to Europe.

How will ETIAS affect your travels to Europe?

ETIAS will have a minimal effect on travelling to Europe. Travellers will simply have to register online with the EU visa waiver system before departing.

The online application for travel authorization to Europe will require the applicant to enter biometric passport information and travel details, as well as to answer some basic security questions. The process of applying for an ETIAS will be quick and easy for all eligible travellers.

There will be no need to visit a consulate or embassy to obtain an ETIAS travel authorization, nor will there be the need for unnecessary bureaucracy upon arrival. Eligible citizens will already have been screened when registering for an ETIAS for Europe online.

It is expected that applicants will quickly receive an approval notice for their ETIAS, which will be sent digitally to their individual email address.

It is likely that with time and with more changes to the visa rules for Europe, more countries will be made eligible for ETIAS and citizens of these countries will be awarded visa-free travel to Europe.

The future of the EU Visa System

As the visa rules for Europe change, there will be several more amendments to the current European Common Visa Policy:

  • An increase in the EU visa fee
  • 7-day short-term tourist visas will be issued at strictly regulated external European land and sea borders
  • Regular travellers who are trusted by the authorities according to their migration, security and health history, may be offered longer-stay visas from 1 to 3 years.

Some of these improvements will be applicable to visitors who are eligible for the ETIAS visa waiver once it is implemented.

Changes to the Visa Information System (VIS) will also make way for the implementation of the ETIAS program in 2022. The reforms are expected to allow easier and quicker access to databases containing visa applicant information. This will allow member states to more efficiently determine the applicant’s eligibility for an ETIAS travel authorization.