Understanding the Visa Information System (VIS)

Traveling is fun, but in order to travel you first need to get the proper visas to be able to go where you want. The Visa Information System for European Union entry should be in your vocabulary alongside Eiffel Tower and Pisa.

You might have come here because you are doing a research project for school, or maybe you found this article because you overstayed your Schengen visa and need some information. Regardless, we’re going to breakdown the Visa Information System (VIS) as easily as we can.

The system is a database containing information for the entire European Union’s visa entries, including biometrics on visa applications for certain citizens of countries that require a visa to enter the Schengen area. It can perform two types of tasks: verification and identification.

Data managed by VIS

  • Biometric information (10 fingerprints for your lovely fingers)
  • A picture of your face (just like a passport photo)
  • Data is stored for 5 years

When you enter a Schengen country for the first time, you will be asked by border control to place your fingers on a screen for fingerprints, and to also look into a camera. This is where they are verifying that your visa and you are the same person. Identification comes afterward to make sure they have identified you are who your visa says you are. They are able to go through the whole system looking for your biometrics in 10 minutes. Wow!

What if I overstayed my tourist visa?

To my knowledge, the VIS is not punishing you for what you do after you enter the country. The VIS basically makes sure that you are the rightful owner of your visa when you enter. While you are in the country you’re on your own. When you leave the country and have overstayed – that can be another issue of getting caught. But luckily I have some advice on that.

Also, it is helpful to point out that if you have overstayed, the bigger problem comes when you apply for another visa in the future, and they are able to find out if you have overstayed or not based on the information you give in the application, or if you are caught on exit.

Whos data is collected?

Anyone who has a free waiver to Schengen (Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealand, and others) probably will not experience putting their fingerprints onto the machines when they enter Europe, simply because citizens from those countries do not need to pre-apply for a visa. A 90-day tourist visa just comes with the territory.

For all you citizens of the world who are not from those countries, you probably know that you need to apply for a Schengen visa, and therefore, the VIS will apply to you.

Difference between VIS and SIS

The Schengen Information System (SIS) was put into place to preserve security within the Schengen Zone, and the VIS is put into place to gather information about arrivals in the Schengen Zone. In other words, it’s like the VIS is the gatekeeper of the castle, and the SIS is the knight protecting the castle…if the castle was the Schengen Zone.

How can VIS help tourists?

It can help save you from identity theft! Biometric technology enables the detection of travelers using another person’s travel documents and protects travelers from identity theft. Yay for technology!

Other areas the VIS helps with:

Visa Shopping: the practice of making further visa applications to the other EU States when a first application has been rejected

Asylum applications: VIS makes it easier to determine which EU State is responsible for examining an asylum application and to examine such applications.

Protection: The VIS assists in preventing, detecting and investigating terrorist offenses and other serious criminal offenses on the entrance to Schengen.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and not accountable for your actions – just a person with an opinion stating the facts about Schengen law and imaginary situations. Overstaying a visa is illegal with strict consequences, and you should consider your actions at your own risk. If you are concerned about legal issues, please contact your embassy/consulate, or an immigration lawyer.

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