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Brussels, 11 October 2011
Frequently Asked Questions: The Visa Information System goes live
What is the Visa Information System?
The Visa Information System (VIS) is a system for the exchange of data on short-stay visas among Schengen States.
The VIS consists of a central database, a national interface in each Schengen state, and a communication infrastructure between the central database and the national interfaces. The VIS is connected to the national visa systems of all Schengen States via the national interfaces to enable competent authorities of the Schengen States to process data on visa applications and on all visas that are issued, refused, annulled, revoked or extended.
The VIS is composed of two systems, first the VIS central database with alphanumerical searching capabilities and an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) that compares new fingerprints against those in the database and returns hit/no hit response, along with matches.
The principal central VIS is located in Strasbourg (France) and a back-up central VIS, capable of ensuring all functionalities of the principal central VIS is located in Sankt Johann im Pongau (Austria).
The VIS continuously processes the information collected by Schengen states' consulates. For example, any information entered by local visa authorities will be available in the VIS for all users within a few minutes. Border authorities can then verify visa holders' identities at the border crossing points in just a few seconds. The VIS operates 24/7, 365 days a year.
The Commission was in charge of the development of the central database, the national interfaces and the communication infrastructure between the central VIS and the national interfaces. Their development was funded by the EU budget (the cost amounted to €135 million between 2004 and 2011). Each Schengen state is responsible for the development, management, and operation of its national system.
The Agency for the management of large-scale IT systems in the area of justice, freedom and security will be the Managing Authority of the VIS. Until the Agency becomes operational, the Managing Authority will be the Commission and the French authorities, in line with the relevant legal base.
Where will the VIS start operations?
The VIS will not start operations in all Schengen consulates worldwide at once, but will be progressively deployed, region by region. In November 2009, the Commission adopted a Decision (2010/49/EC) determining the first regions for the VIS consular rollout. The VIS will first start operations in all Schengen states' visa-issuing consulates in North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia). The VIS will subsequently be deployed in the Near East (Israel, Jordan, the Lebanon, and Syria), and then in the Gulf region (Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen).
By the end of 2011, the Commission will adopt a Decision determining a second set of regions for the VIS consular rollout.
When will the VIS start operations?
The date of 11.10.2011 for the VIS start of operations in North Africa was set by the Commission after all Schengen states (having visa-issuing consulates in North Africa) informed the Commission that they had taken the necessary legal and technical arrangements for collecting and transmitting the data for all applications in the region to the VIS.
The same procedure will apply in determining the dates for the start of operations in all regions.
The dates for the start of operations in the Near East and the Gulf region have not yet been set. The determination of these dates will depend on national preparations in both regions as well as on the experience of how the VIS rollout works in North Africa.
In the Near East and the Gulf region a Schengen state may decide to start operations ahead of the general rollout with or without collecting the fingerprints of visa applicants, on the condition that it notifies the Commission that it has made the necessary legal and technical arrangements.
Have the political events of the 'Arab Spring' 2011 been taken into consideration when deciding on the VIS deployment plan?
No, the political decision to start VIS operations in North Africa and then in the Near East region was taken by the Council in 2005, and later reaffirmed in November 2009 (2010/49/EC), well before the events of the 'Arab Spring'.
Which data are registered in the VIS?
In each region where the VIS will be progressively deployed, Schengen states' visa authorities will register data relating to short-stay visa applications (i.e applications for stays in the Schengen area up to three months) in the VIS. Data on national long-stay visas will not be registered in the VIS.
Upon receipt of an application, the visa authorities of the competent Schengen state will create an application file in the VIS and will register the alphanumeric data contained in the Schengen visa application form1, a digital photograph, and ten fingerprints taken of the applicant.
If the applicant is travelling in a group, the application files of the travellers will be linked in the VIS. If a previous application has been registered for the same applicant, both applications will also be linked in the VIS.
For each region, the Commission will determine the date from which the use of the VIS and the collection of fingerprints is mandatory for all Schengen visa-issuing consulates in the region concerned. Before that date, a Schengen state may decide to start operations ahead of the general rollout planned, with or without collecting the fingerprints of visa applicants. If a Schengen state decides not to collect fingerprints, the other data will be registered in the VIS.
When a decision has been taken on the application (issuance/ refusal of the visa) or subsequently (annulment, revocation, extension), the information is registered in the VIS by the visa authorities of the competent Schengen states. When the visa is issued and if all the applicant's data - including his/her fingerprints - was registered in the VIS, a 'VIS code' is inserted in the visa sticker. If the fingerprints were not collected because this was not yet mandatory in the region concerned, a 'VIS code 0' is inserted in the visa sticker. The purpose is to facilitate border controls until the moment the VIS is used in all regions worldwide and fingerprints are systematically collected.
What are the practical consequences of the introduction of the VIS for visa applicants?
First-time visa applicants will always have to appear in person when lodging an application in order to provide their photograph and fingerprints.
The photograph can be digitally taken at the time of the application or scanned from an existing one.
For subsequent applications within five years, fingerprints can be copied from the previous application file in the VIS.
Visa applicants' biometric data can be collected by Schengen states' consulates and external service providers but not commercial intermediaries (e.g. travel agencies).
From 20 days after the VIS becomes operational in North Africa, Schengen states' border guards will systematically check the visa sticker number in the VIS and possibly the fingerprints of the visa holder as well. After a transitional period of three years, searches in the VIS will be carried out using the visa sticker number in combination with fingerprints, except under a limited set of circumstances (for instance due to the intensity of traffic).
When arriving at the external border of the Schengen area, visa holders will have to provide their fingerprints for comparison with those registered in the VIS, if requested by Schengen states' border control authorities.
Visa holders whose fingerprints were not collected at the time of application, either because they were exempt from this requirement or because the collection of fingerprints was not yet mandatory in the region concerned, will not be requested to provide fingerprints at the border.
Which applicants are exempt from the requirement to provide fingerprints?
The following categories of applicants are exempt from the requirement to provide fingerprints (Article 13(7) of the Visa Code):
This list is mandatory and exhaustive. Holders of diplomatic passports are not exempt as such from the fingerprinting requirement. They may be exempt if they are members of the official delegation of heads of State or members of a national government invited for an official purpose.
What are the data protection rules with regard to VIS data?
Strict data protection rules are defined in the VIS Regulation and subject to the control of national and European data protection authorities.
Data is kept in the VIS for a maximum of five years starting from the expiry date of the visa, if a visa has been issued; or from the new expiry date of the visa, if a visa has been extended; or from the date a negative decision is taken by the visa authorities.
Any person has the right to obtain a copy of the data recorded in the VIS related to him/her from the Schengen State which entered the data into the system. Any person may also request that inaccurate data related to him/her be corrected and that data unlawfully recorded be deleted.
In each Schengen state, national supervisory authorities independently monitor the processing of personal data registered in the VIS by the Schengen State in question.
The European Data Protection Supervisor monitors the data processing activities by the VIS Management authority.
including the applicant's name, his/her nationality, his/her place of residence, his/her occupation, the travel document's number, the type of visa requested, the main destination and the duration of the intended stay, the intended border of first entry, the details of the inviting person.