The EU's proposal for e-visas will take some time in coming. By 2025 based on current plans. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: UAE residents wanting to make a trip to Europe must stick with applying for Schengen visas a full four- to six months before the planned travel to avoid needless delays. This remains the case even as the EU starts making a transition to digitise and process online Schengen visa procedures – because it will be another 2 years before the project becomes a reality.

Delays in getting appointments for visas has been a constant issue for UAE travellers to Europe in the last 12 months and more.

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“Visa processing delays are not something that is German-specific,” said Yamina Sofo, Director at the Dubai-based German National Tourist Office. “It is a challenge faced by most Schengen nations.

“It is also recommended applicants who cannot make it to their appointment on a given date cancel it online. This would open up a slot for other applicants.”

Data show only a few appointments are left for April, even though the processing time in different embassies and consulates has dropped. Which is why talk about the EU moving to digitise all visa processes found an immediate favourable response from the travel sector in the UAE.

According to a Dubai-based travel agent, UAE and GCC travel numbers to Europe is yet to get back to pre-pandemic capacities. “People are both time and price-conscious,” the travel agent said. “Travellers in this market generally make last-minute bookings.

“The opportunity to get a Schengen visa in a short time and a few weeks ahead of travel will encourage more to take that holiday.”

Moreover, UAE carriers are boosting services to European cities and will continue to do so. “This means connectivity with Europe would not be an issue,” said a travel agent. “With offerings from ultra-low-cost carriers such as Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, there will be options for travel of all budgets.”

How much would an e-visa cost?

While the proposal to the EU Council has not specified any change in costs for an e-visa, travel industry sources say the cost of application may see changes once implemented. The draft proposal has said the payment of the visa fees should be made using a third-party gateway linked to the online application platform and the payments would be directly transferred to the appropriate EU member-state being visited.

Current Schengen visa fees from UAE are priced at Dh340 and for children between 6-12 years at Dh170.

The European Union Council has recently agreed to negotiate a proposal to digitalise the Schengen visa application procedure for all applicants.

Proposed rules for EU digital visa

The visas will be issued in digital format, as a 2D barcode, cryptographically signed. This will reduce security risks related to counterfeit and stolen visa stickers.

“Online applications will reduce the number of trips to the consulates for travellers and make the process smoother for national administrations,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, the Swedish Minister for Migration, has been quoted as saying.

At the same time, the digital visa will end the risk of falsification and theft of the visa sticker.

Visa applicants should be able to apply for a visa online through a single EU platform, regardless of the member-state of destination.

Moreover, visa applicants can submit personal data, a scanned copy of the travel document, and supporting documents and travel medical insurance through the platform.

Appearing in person at the consulate or availing the service of an external service provider - VFS Global - should be mandatory only for first-time applicants and those who acquired a new travel document, which needs to be verified, and for collecting biometric identifiers.

Repeat applicants should be able to apply online within five years after successful applications, provided they use the same travel document.