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SCHENGEN : VISAS IN EU WILL NOW BE BASED ON BIOMETRIC DATA.

After a four-year wait, the European Commission officially announced on the morning of 11 October the launch of the Visa Information System (VIS). Negotiations with the European Parliament regarding the legal basis of VIS had, on the contrary, been quick.

With this new system, valid in the Schengen zone without permanent border control, "visa applications will be dealt with far more quickly thanks to the use of biometric elements [a digital photograph, and ten fingerprints]," the Commission said in a statement. The aim is to facilitate the identification of the visa holder and to prevent identity theft. Via VIS, member countries of the Schengen area - soon to be 26 with the entry of Leichtenstein - will be able to "quickly and efficiently exchange data relating to short-stay visa applications (i.e applications for stays in the Schengen area up to three months".

In the context of current tensions about the reform of the Schengen Code - to do with the Commission's wish to have a say in national decisions regarding the potential reinstatement of border controls, particularly in the case of migratory problems - the European executive hopes that the VIS will reinforce the integrity of the free movement area as well as trust between member states. This trust has been damaged vis-a-vis Greece in particular, which is struggling to control its borders with Turkey, the main crossing point for illegal migrants into Europe. There has also been much tension between France and Italy surrounding the episode of some 25,000 Tunisian migrants arriving on the Italian coast after the fall of the Ben Ali regime.

The first consulates that will deploy the VIS system are those located in North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia). "Thanks to the new system the issuance and verification of visas will both be more efficient and more secure," said the Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom.

STATE OF THE ART TECHNOLOGY

Some 13 million Schengen visas are issued each year in the 25 countries of the Schengen area. This figure is due to increase. The current system is no longer enough: preventing fraud and abuse is not always easy and the visa application process can be long. VIS is based on state of the art technology and uses digital photographs and fingerprinting. With just a few clicks, the identity of the visa holder will be verified. In all the Schengen states, the competent authorities will be able to consult the data stored in VIS, for example in the case of a person who has already made an application and is making a new application.

VIS will contain all the Schengen visa applications, as well as all the decisions made regarding these applications. VIS will not be immediately rolled out in all the consulates of Schengen countries. Rather, it will be deployed region by region. North Africa will soon be followed by the Near East (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) and the Gulf (Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen). It will take two years to complete all the connections.

Applicants will have to place their fingers on the surface of a digital scanner. If they make subsequent applications within the next five years, their fingerprints will not be taken again but copied from the previous application stored in VIS. The fingerprint data will be erased after five years.

When the visa holder arrives at an external border, the border guards of Schengen states will verify his or her identity and the authenticity of the visa by consulting VIS. The VIS database is based in Strasbourg, with a backup in Sankt Johann im Pongau, Austria. The development and national branches of VIS were financed by the EU budget - 135 million euros between 2004 and 2011. However, each Schengen state is responsible for the development, management and operation of its national system. VIS operates all year round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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Publication:European Report
Date:Oct 12, 2011
Words:657
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