The revised Visa Information System and its fundamental rights implications

30/08/2018
This Opinion by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) aims to inform the European Parliament’s position on the legislative proposal amending the Visa Information System, the Visa Code and other related provisions of EU law. The European Commission presented the proposal on 16 May 2018 and EU legislators are currently discussing it.7 Throughout the text, this opinion refers to the proposed amendments using the wording “the proposal” or “the Commission proposal”.
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The revised Visa Information System and its fundamental rights implications

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The Visa Information System – generally referred to as VIS – is one of the EU’s largescale information technology systems (IT systems). It was established to facilitate the application procedure for Schengen visas (meaning short-stay visas for up to 90 days in a period of 180 days), although it also serves ancillary asylum, immigration control and security related purposes.

After the initial Council decision establishing VIS in 2004 (Decision 2004/512/EC8), the modalities of its functioning and the exchange of data between Member States on short-stay visas were determined in 2008 by Regulation (EC) No. 767/2008.9 VIS was rolled-out worldwide only in November 2015.10 By January 2018, data on more than 52 million Schengen visa applications, with over 52 million photographs and almost 50 million fingerprints were entered in VIS.11 The proposal intends to change significantly the personal scope of VIS – which is currently limited to short-term visitors. In future, it should also include all third-country nationals who live in the EU with a residence permit or a long-stay visa. A Commission study projected that this would mean storing data, including biometric data, of over 20 million additional people (future holders of these documents for long-stay).12 Many of them have their centre of life in the EU, where they are residing on a permanent basis.

Significant amendments are also proposed to the Visa Code (Regulation (EC) No. 810/2009) which establishes the procedures for examining applications for shortstay visa. From a fundamental rights point of view, the most important changes of the proposal concern:

  • the plan to extend the personal scope of VIS to include also holders of longstay visas and residence permits;
  • the processing of facial images for biometric matching in VIS;
  • the plan to process biometric data of children, including fingerprints as of the age of six years;
  • the enhanced use of automated checks between IT systems;
  • access to VIS data by carriers;
  • the use of VIS data for reporting and statistics;
  • new rules on access to VIS for law enforcement purposes; and
  • the development of risk indicators to assess visa applications.