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VISAS

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process
A picture taken on September 28, 2021 in the Moroccan capital Rabat shows a Moroccan passport backdropped against a Schengen visa. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system. 

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VISAS

How to apply for an Italian elective residency visa from the UK

If you're a non-EU UK resident or a British citizen who wants to move to Italy post-Brexit, the elective residency visa is one of the options available to you. Here's how to apply from the UK.

How to apply for an Italian elective residency visa from the UK

Since Brexit was finalised at the start of 2021, British nationals who want to relocate to Italy have been in the same boat as all other extra-EU citizens, requiring a visa to make the move.

For those who receive a passive income and don’t need to work, the elective residency/residence visa (ERV) is a popular choice – though the application process can be confusing.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

A recent survey conducted by the Local on the experiences of British citizens moving to Italy post-Brexit found that a number of respondents – mostly retirees – had applied or attempted to apply for this visa.

However many described the process as being far more onerous, complex and stressful than they had anticipated.

One couple who were on their second attempt strongly advised retaining a lawyer, as they found that the information provided by the Italian authorities was not clear or detailed enough to allow for a successful application.

READ ALSO: ‘Seek legal advice’: Your advice on applying for Italian visas post-Brexit

The Local spoke to three experts about how to maximise your chances of success when applying for the ERV.

Most of the advice given was relevant to anyone intending to apply for the ERV, but some related specifically to the experience of people applying from the UK; we’ve compiled that information here.

Because where you’re applying from – rather than your nationality – is the main thing that matters for this application process, this guidance applies equally to non-British citizens who are legally resident in the UK.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re applying for the ERV as a British resident.

Going through an agency

If you want to apply for an ERV from the UK, you’ll likely need to go through VFS Global, an outsourcing agency that handles visa applications for the UK’s Italian consulates.

This is different to how the application process works for people in countries like the US, Canada, or Australia, who usually need to apply directly to the Italian consulate closest to where they are legally resident.

Most UK applicants, by contrast, deal exclusively with VFS Global, whose representatives conduct the appointment, review the documentation and deliver the application to the consulate on their behalf.

Some of the Local’s readers have said they felt penalised by the requirement to go through a third party middleman, as it blocks them from having direct contact with anyone with at the consulate.

But Nick Metta from Studio Legale Metta says going through an agency can actually provide an advantage, as their representatives tend to be well-versed in all the ERV requirements. “Basically they can do a pre-check, and usually that will avoid you the denial letter,” he says.

Agencies can assist you in making sure all your paperwork is in order.

Agencies can assist you in making sure all your paperwork is in order. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In the absence of an agency, he says, the consular staff member tasked with conducting ERV meetings is often “a front office handler who in most cases is not very well-versed in Italian regulations or requirements,” – some of whom have provided his clients with incorrect information in the past.

Elze Obrikyte from Giambrone & Partners, who regularly assists UK clients with ERV applications, says that the involvement of an agency also means UK applicants have more flexibility about where – and therefore when – they can book an appointment.

For example, while US applicants have to wait for a slot at their nearest consulate to open up, someone in London has the option to book an appointment at VFS’s application centre in, e.g., Edinburgh, potentially fast-tracking the process for those who are keen to get started.

READ ALSO: EU Blue Card: Who can get one in Italy and how do you apply?

What’s required

VFS Global’s checklist says applicants for the ERV in the UK should have:

    • A completed application form, which can be obtained from your consulate.
    • Two recent passport photos.
    • A passport that is valid until at least 90 days after the requested ERV would expire, plus two copies of the front page and of all Schengen visas issued in the past three years.
    • For non-British citizens, a UK residence permit.
    • A cover letter explaining why you intend to move to Italy.
    • Detailed documentation showing “substantial and stable private income”, including official letters from the banks or financial institutions listed (this must be passive income, as ERV recipients are not allowed to work once they arrive in Italy). 
    • Your last two years of income tax returns.
    • A registered ownership deed or rental lease agreement for property in Italy.
    • A reservation for a one-way ticket to Italy.
    • A marriage certificate for those applying as a married couple, and/or a birth certificate showing both parents’ names for dependent minors.

Applying for an ERV to move from the UK to Italy requires a substantial amount of paperwork.

Applying for an ERV to move from the UK to Italy requires a substantial amount of paperwork. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Advice for UK applicants

Giuditta Petreni, who assists clients with ERV applications at Mazzeschi Legal Counsels, says she believes the ERV process has been getting tougher for UK-based applicants in recent years.

Obrikyte says she thinks consulates have become more strict in general over the past decade, but has observed that British applicants tend to struggle more with the application process than their North American counterparts.

“I see that most of them tend to be not well prepared for this type of application, while American and Canadian citizens, they’ve been living in this situation for years, so they prepare better,” she says.

READ ALSO: From visas to language: What Americans can expect when retiring in Italy

British applicants, by contrast, “tend to submit the application without actually putting a lot of effort in and then they are surprised when the application is rejected.”

Obrikyte says one key area where applicants often fall down is the cover letter explaining why they want to move to Italy.

In her experience, ‘pre-rejections’ – provisional refusals that give applicants the opportunity to fix an unsatisfactory aspect of their application before the final decision is made – are often issued on the basis of this letter alone.

She says that when asked to write a motivation letter, her clients will often write about loving the food or the weather. “This is not enough,” says Obrikyte.

READ ALSO: Visas and residency permits: How to move to Italy (and stay here)

“You must really convince them that, for example, you have purchased a property, you have already been spending a lot of time in Italy, and you are integrated in that neighbourhood.”

“Italian language is not a requirement for this visa, but of course if you mention that you are studying Italian or you know Italian, which helps you to integrate better, this is also an advantage for your application.”

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