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Planning to visit Schengen countries anytime soon? Here's some good news. Pandemic-related restrictions for entry into the EU and Schengen zone imposed by many member countries had been lifted.

The result: In the week ending August 15, Western Europe has emerged as the world's largest regional aviation market.

Aviation data tracker OAG reported that airlines deployed 23.68 million seats in Western Europe, a 36 percent jump from year-ago numbers. Amid this huge "travel rebound" — a new challenge emerged: flight disruptions, in part due to ground-handling capacity issues.

There are some important nuances and key updates to take note of. Here’s what to know about Schengen visa applications for UAE residents.

What is Schengen?

It’s a small town in the east of Luxembourg, about 35 km by car from Luxembourg City — in the tri-border of Luxembourg, Germany and France. This little spot (population: 540) hosted the signing of the Schengen agreement in 1985 and 1990.

What is a Schengen visa?

It is a product of the agreement, known as the Schengen Implementation Convention. The landmark deal abolished many of the EU's internal borders — allowing free movement between signatory countries. The convention has completely changed the way people travel in Europe.

When was the Schengen agreement signed?

On July 14, 1985, as Luxembourg held the European Economic Community (EEC) presidency, it picked Schengen for its symbolism: it intersects France, Germany, and Luxembourg (a member of "Benelux"). Two other countries signed — Belgium and the Netherlands.

The signatories representing the five stated rode on the MS Princesse Marie-Astrid cruise boat moored at the tri-point border, running down the middle of the Moselle River.

How well did the Schengen zone do?

In the early 1980s, towards the end of the “Cold War”, the idea of border-free travel had divided members of the EEC (precursor of the European Union, EU).

Much has changed since then, and many countries joined the treaty.

From the original five (5) states, Schengen zone now includes 26 member-countries— an area that covers over 4.31 million square kilometres, representing about 420 million inhabitants.

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Schengen area, which now includes 26 states covering a huge area about 4.31 million square kilometres, is the widest free travel area in the world.

What’s the difference between Schengen and the EU?

The borders of the Schengen zone and the European Union (EU) do not coincide.

Of the 26 Schengen states, 22 are members of the EU, while four – Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Switzerland – are not.

The EU, on the other hand, is an economic and political union of 28 states (Croatia is the latest member to join EU). EU members have abolished internal visas and also voluntarily transferred part of their powers to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (CEU).

With a Schengen visa, foreign citizens can also travel to Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Croatia, Montenegro — though they’re not Schengen convention members.

Croatia is set to officially become Schengen Zone member in 2023, according to travel site Schengen Visa Info.

Do other states/territories adhere to the Schengen Agreement?

Yes. The Schengen area also includes Madeira, the Azores, and the Canary Islands (in the Atlantic Ocean) as well as San Marino, the Vatican, Monaco, and Andorra — they all adhere to the Schengen Agreement, though they are not part of the Schengen convention. A Schengen visa-holder can visit these states or territories.

Important note: A traveller cannot enter the Schengen zone from the above-mentioned states/territories (Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands, San Marino, the Vatican, Monaco and Andorra) without a Schengen visa.

Example: A foreign tourist is issued a single-entry Schengen visa. He plans to visit Spain and Monaco, and then continue on to France. However, on leaving the Schengen area (in this case, Spain) the single-entry visa is no longer valid. In order to enter France, the tourist will have to apply for a Schengen visa again.

The Schengen Agreement is also NOT valid in some Schengen states — in Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Svalbard, Bear Island, Martinique, Mayotte, Reunion, Saint Barthélemy and Saint Martin.

What are the candidate states for the Schengen zone accession?

Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Montenegro plan to become part of the Schengen area, too. It remains uncertain when the decision for these countries to join the area will be made.

However, foreign citizens can travel to Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Montenegro — as well as Croatia — on a Schengen visa.

Nationalities that need to apply for Schengen visa?

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For UAE expat residents, what’s the latest on Schengen visa application?

In the past, travellers from the UAE had to wait 3-4 months for Schengen visa appointments. By September, Schengen visa appointments is expected to take much less time.

Why the three-month lead time?

The three-month lead time for Schengen visa application was advised in 2019 by Vinay Malhotra of VFS Global, which assists a number of Schengen countries in processing visa applications.

It was not a rule. Rather, it was a rule-of-thumb for travelers planning a Schengen-zone trip during the peak travel season — for their own convenience.

Pre-COVID and in 2020, Schengen visa application rules were also tightened, and application fees increased for certain categories.

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Given the huge volume of applicants, waiting time for availability of appointments with service provider VFS Global went up to three to four weeks, according to an official.

Who grants the Schengen visa approval?

The approval of visa applications filed with the VFS Global centres is solely at the discretion of the client government it serves.

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Appointment slots are also controlled and determined by the Schengen countries’ embassies or consulates.

Moreover, the processing time and decision to grant visas are also the sole prerogative of the diplomatic missions.

How long is the visa processing time?

It typically takes between a few days and can go up to 15 to 30 working days for certain cases (not including any public holidays), according the VFS Global. But applicants have reported getting their visa applications approved in as little as 20 days.

The volume of visa application for leisure travel — especially from families — is expected to ease significantly by September as school resumes, howevere corporate travel will remain strong.

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Applying for Schengen visa in the UAE:

For Schengen visa, VFS Global centres in the UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), represent and accept applications for the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia and The Netherlands.

For a hassle-free trip, here are the top 5 tips to a hassle-free application:

1. Include all information:

When filling in a visa application form, include all the information requested, in the indicated format, as per their travel documentation. Incorrect or missed details will lead to your visa getting issued with incorrect details.

2. Check the list:

Have a destination-specific, customised list that is readily available on the VFS Global information pages. Some countries will require specific documents while others may have fewer requirements. It’s better to cover all your bases in preparing for visa application.

3. Bank statement attestation:

Certain Schengen countries require applicants to submit their bank statements, duly attested. It is imperative to submit the attested bank statements to reflect your financial capacity for the travel — as well as your credit standing.

4. Don’t cut it too fine:

Every country has a different turn-around time for processing a visa application which, in turn, varies — depending on the travel seasons. Don’t leave your visa applications to the last minute.

Most countries accept applications up to 90 days prior to travel. Applying for a visa well in advance allows enough time to deal with any unforeseen delays.

5. Sponsor selection:

The sponsor details, where required, help officials understand the applicant’s support system in the country of travel. These details are extremely crucial to the visa decision. Ensure all the details are in proper order and submit relevant sponsorship documents.

[Note: This is a general guide; it is best to check with the embassy or consulate of a Schengen-visa member country for the latest entry rules].