Visa holders visiting the EU to be put on a European database

In a move to step up the fight against visa fraud, the Council has adopted conclusions on the architecture, functionalities and biometric identifiers to be included in the future European-wide database on visas.

The Justice and Home Affairs Council adopted its conclusions on the architecture and functionalities of the Visa Information System (VIS) on 19 February 2004. These conclusions will serve as a basis for the Commission to draft a regulation on the VIS. The VIS will contain extensive personal information supplied by people from around the world who apply for a visa to the EU Member States, such as:

  • the applicant’s identity
  • the type of visa in question: Schengen uniform visa or “national visa”, long or short term
  • the status of the visa: visa requested, issued, formally refused, annulled, revoked or extended
  • the authority that issued the visa (including border crossing points) and whether that authority issued it on behalf of another State
  • the authority that formally refused, annulled, revoked or extended the visa and the grounds for doing so
  • the record of persons who issued the invitations and who are held liable to pay board and lodging costs
  • The digitised photographs, or original photographs of the visa applicants taken with a digital camera, will also be included.

The conclusions specify that, in a later phase, more elements (eg fingerprints, scanned documents) will be added to the VIS.

The VIS will be a two-tier system comprising a Central Visa Information System (C-VIS) and a National Visa Information System (N-VIS) in each Member State. Visa, immigration, police, and security agencies will all be able to search VIS provided that visa data are required for the performance of their tasks. However, only visa-issuing authorities can enter and update data. Information will be kept for “at least five years” after the decision on whether to grant the visa.

 

Civil libertarians worry that these programmes will erode privacy. Statewatch state: "Taken together, SIS II, VIS and PNR will introduce the surveillance of the movements of everyone in the EU - citizens, legally resident third-country nationals, visa entrants and irregular migrants - and the storage of their personal data on an unprecedented scale.(...) These systems will be used for speculative surveillance, general intelligence gathering and "fishing expeditions", but more importantly, individual records will increasingly result in coercive sanctions, such as the refusal to travel, the refusal of visa or asylum applications, the refusal of admission to a country at external borders, detention pending extradition, even deportation".

 

In 2002, Member States agreed to set up a system for the exchange of visa data between themselves: the Visa Information System (VIS). The VIS aims to counter visa fraud and to improve exchanges of information between the Member States on visa applications and the responses given. It is expected to facilitate checks - carried out at immigration or police checkpoints - that the carrier and the holder of the visa are the same person.

The Commission has made a feasibility study on the technical and financial aspects of the Visa Information System (VIS). The estimates set out in the feasibility study for the development costs of the system range from about 130 million to nearly 200 million euros depending on which basic architecture and functionalities are eventually chosen. The study recommends including the VIS in the same technical architecture as the Schengen information system (the EU database of wanted persons) , which is currently being reviewed.

 

The VIS is expected to be up and running by 2007.

 

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