The EU common visa policy is an essential part of the Schengen acquis and one of the most valued achievements of EU harmonisation. It is a tool to facilitate tourism and business, while preventing security risks and risk of irregular migration to the EU.
The migration and security challenges faced in recent years in combination with the rapid global technological developments incentivise authorities to improve the security of the visa process, while making it more user-friendly for travellers and consulates. Indeed, at a national level, some Member States are already looking at the digitalisation of the visa processing, e.g. through online portals.
The March 2018 Commission Communication on visa policy took up the debate on digitalisation of visa processing. As an outcome of the Communication, a feasibility study on digital visas was announced along with the intention to assess various options as well as the promotion of pilot projects, which would prepare the ground of future legislative proposals.
In September 2019, the 'Study on the feasibility and implications of options to digitalise visa processing' was completed. This study analysed the feasibility of digitalising the visa application process, using a Schengen application portal, as well as the digitalisation of the (current) physical sticker, by using biometrics. The study also recommended a two-phased pilot project for the Schengen application portal.
Following its new Establishing Regulation, eu‑LISA was requested to provide advice and support to the Commission for this new system, by way of studies and testing. Subsequent to informing the Management Board of the request, eu‑LISA set out in Q3/ 2020 with its partners and stakeholders, to launch a pilot project on the development of such a portal.
The pilot Development, test and analysis reports of a prototype of the EU online visa application portal corresponds to the first phase of the pilot project. In particular, this first phase looks to:
- Design, develop and test a customer-friendly, secure and interactive online visa application portal prototype, usable by applicants and Member State representatives; and
- Conduct an analysis of the budgetary and legal requirements as well as the implications, costs and challenges of developing such a portal at the EU level.
"Prototype" should not be understood as the final, fully operational product of the online visa application portal. A prototype refers to an early, scaled down version of the final product in order to bring to life a preliminary interactive version of the online visa portal. User testing is important for a prototype as it gives the user an idea of how the final product can look in terms of design, feel and means of interactions by providing some features as operational and others as visualisation
In this context, the focus will be on the following phases:
- IMAGINE: understand the Schengen visa process, target groups and their current journey, design the AS-IS journey and imagine the TO-BE online visa application journey
- DELIVER: with the inputs from the Imagine phase, create the wireframes of the portal's clickable mock-ups and implement them by delivering an interactive prototype using agile methodologies
- RUN: run and conduct usability tests through different simulations and incorporate results in a final report.
As the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic over the past years, eu‑LISA recently published a detailed study on the prospects and opportunities of using AI in the operational management of large-scale IT systems. In order to leverage and merge these two studies, one of the features of the e‑VISA portal will be a chat bot/ virtual assistant that could be used to answer questions about the interactive electronic application form that users will need to fill out.
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The firm intention is to have the e‑VISA portal delivered to its stakeholders by Q3/ 2021, less than one year after its inception and to demonstrate eu‑LISA's added-value to its stakeholders and the business at large.
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