Passport Control at Frankfurt Airport / Photo: Chung Jen/Flickr

EU visa database reform targets undocumented migrants

The European Commission is proposing to upgrade the Visa Information System (VIS), the database containing information on persons applying for Schengen visas, in order to better respond to evolving security and migratory challenges.

A proposal by the European Commission on Wednesday to upgrade the Visa Information System (VIS) aims to make it easier for police to identify people not permitted to remain in the EU.

VIS is an EU database which connects border guards at the EU’s external borders with Member States’ consulates across the world. It provides visa issuing authorities with key information on applicants for short-stay Schengen visas while allowing border guards to detect travellers that may pose security risks.

VIS will also now include long-term visa and residence permits into its system, described by the Commission as a security gap. The proposed changes will allow for more thorough background checks on visa applicants; close security information gaps through better information exchange between Member States; and ensure full interoperability with other EU-wide databases.

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Every year, millions of non-EU nationals enter the EU with a visa, be it for a short stay or for a longer period. With the upgrade of the Visa Information System, we will remove blind spots in our information systems and give visa authorities and border guards the information they need to do their job properly. Criminals and potential terrorists should not be able to come to Europe unnoticed. Europe is not a fortress – but we need to know who is crossing our borders. It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of European citizens and build a Europe that protects while not hampering mobility for those travelling to the EU in good faith.”

The highlights of the proposal are:

  • All visa applications recorded in the VIS will now be automatically checked against all other EU information systems for security and migration, such as the newly established Entry-Exit System (EES), the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), through a Single Search Portal. This obligatory crosscheck will detect applicants using multiple identities and identify anyone posing security or irregular migration risks;
  • Better data and information exchange: Currently no information is held at EU level on long-stay visas and residence permits. The proposed upgrades will extend the scope of the VIS to also include such information. This will allow border guards to quickly determine whether a long-stay visa or a residence permit used to cross the Schengen external borders is valid and in the hands of its legitimate holder;
  • From now on, copies of the visa applicant’s travel document will also be included in the VIS database. This measure, coupled with the authorisation for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency staff to have access to the VIS, will facilitate the identification and readmission of undocumented irregular migrants;
  • Law enforcement authorities and Europol will now have a more structured access to the VIS for the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious crimes, under strict conditions and in full respect of the EU’s data protection rules. Access to the VIS will be also opened to law enforcement authorities for the purpose of searching or identifying missing or abducted persons and victims of trafficking.

Sola Jolaoso


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