June 13, 2013

Schengen visa biometric requirements: What you need to know


There has been much publicity and confusion surrounding the new biometric requirements required by South African passport holders when applying for Schengen visas. TNW (Travel NewsWeekly) shed some light on the new requirements that became compulsory for all Schengen visas from 6 June 2013.

Fingerprints
All visa applicants now have to appear in person at the consulate or a visa application centre when lodging an application to provide their fingerprints. Once the biometric data are entered in the VIS, the applicant’s details will be stored for five years and a personal visit to the consulate may be waived.

The capturing of biometric information is intended to facilitate visa applications for frequent travellers and to enhance security. The VIS helps Schengen member states verify whether an applicant has used previous visas lawfully. With biometric data, a visa holder can easily be identified as the person who applied for the visa. 

Photos
The issue of digital photos required for the biometric visa has led to confusion in the travel industry. Until now, all visa applicants have had to provide passport photographs that were then scanned on to their visas. From now, the visa officer will take the traveller’s picture using a digital camera. However, some consulates still require travellers to bring their own photos. 

Paul Cabane, associate director of Capago, says this is just a technicality and shouldn’t lead to confusion. “Either the picture is scanned according to OACI standards or it’s taken on site with an incorporated camera. In both cases, picture and fingerprints are compulsory.” 

Travellers are advised bring one recent passport photograph to their appointment, regardless of which consulate, in case a technical problem occurs.

Consulate or Visa Application Centre? 
The new biometric requirements have seen the Greek Consulate reaching out to VFS Global for the opening of Greek visa application centres in Johannesburg and in Durban. The new centres will accept visa applications for longer hours every weekday (except public holidays).

The Spanish Consulate has also announced the opening of a new Spanish VFS visa application centre in Durban in June to better accommodate visa applicants. 

Currently, Capago handles the visa processes for France, Italy and Malta. To facilitate the new process for travellers, Capago is looking into the possibility of extending its opening hours on Saturdays for business people and groups.

It is expected that more consulates will start operating visa application centres through VFS or Capago in the near future. 

Processing Time 
Although the travel industry has expressed concern that the new process will add to the time needed to lodge an application, various consulates have assured TNW the new process is not expected to cause any delays. 

A spokesperson for the Austrian Embassy in Pretoria told TNW: “Though the new procedure has caused more work for the embassy (and VFS) staff, this does not affect the time it takes for the applicant to obtain a visa. The taking of the biometric data is a simple, quick and discreet procedure.”


Check and double-check
Travel agents and their customers are strongly advised to read the ‘fine print’ when applying for Schengen visas, as the terms and conditions can be confusing. Those in transit at Schengen airports are urged to double check visa requirements.


Visa information is subject to change at any time. Sure Travel always advises travellers to carefully check visa information and requirements with their travel agent and the respective country’s Consulate in good time before travelling.

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