The EU is moving toward digital visas for the Schengen area

With the move to digitization of the visa process, the need for applicants to get a sticker in their passport will also disappear, meaning there will no longer be meetings at consulates or service provider offices, AFP reported.

The change, introduced after several months of legislative process, will enter into force three weeks after its publication in the EU's administrative official gazette, which is expected soon.

The Schengen area includes 23 of the 27 EU member states, as well as associated neighbors Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

"The online visa system will simplify the visa application process for travelers," said Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlasca, whose country currently holds the EU presidency. Once it is implemented, people applying for a short-term stay in the Schengen area will upload documents, data and electronic copies of their travel documents with biometric information and pay fees, all through an online platform. If approved after a database check, they will receive a cryptographically signed barcode to print or store on a device.

But some first-time applicants or those with a new passport or changed biometrics may still need to attend an in-person meeting.

Some countries, such as Australia, already have similar systems in place where the online visa is linked to the person's passport without the need to put a sticker in it. In most cases, citizens of more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, do not need to apply for short-stay Schengen visas.

But they will soon still have to apply online for pre-screened entry under the long-delayed European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), similar to the ESTA system used in the US. All visitors entering the European Union - on visas or visa-free travel, as well as ETIAS - will go through an automated EU entry/exit system (EES), the rollout of which has also been very delayed.

The computerized system will record the person's details and biometrics, as well as the date of entry and exit, monitoring for overdue and denied entries. /BGNES