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Access to travel documents to one of Kenya’s top trading partners is set to ease as 27 European countries plan to introduce a biometric visa application system for Kenyans and other east Africans.
The new Visa Information System (VIS) which goes live on June 6 will only affect Schengen New Technology for Kenyans travelling to European Shengen countries countries –a group of 27 European countries that signed a treaty on June 14, 1985 to abolish passport and immigration controls at their common borders.
Unlike the manual process which compels applicants to appear in person for every fresh visa application, the new system will automatically track previous visa information when new requests for multiple-entry visas are made.
Easing travel restriction is expected to boost access to a market that accounted for Sh126.2 billion or 24 per cent of the Sh517.9 billion worth of goods that Kenya exported in 2012. The EU is also an important source of foreign direct investments, tourists and diaspora remittances to Kenya.
The East African consulates of the Schengen States are expected to cut the paper work and start collecting fingerprints and digital photos from applicants for the new system.
“This new technology will benefit the growing number of Kenyan citizens who are travelling, enabling them to easily prove their identity and help their visa applications when wishing to visit European Schengen countries,” the EU Ambassador to Kenya Lodewijk Briet said on Tuesday.
“For all visitors – including Kenyans – the Schengen visa system allows freer movement around the 26 European member countries and is part of building bridges with the rest of the world.”
Only 15 Schengen states have consulates in Kenya: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland.
Once rolled out, only children under 12, applicants whose fingerprinting is physically impossible, and high ranking government officials will be exempted.
The rollout of the biometric system follows a similar move in West Africa and is in line with the ongoing reforms by all Schengen States’ consulates around the world to adopt VIS in phases over the next two years.
The European Commission came up with the decision to roll out VIS four years ago.
In general, the Schengen states include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece Hungary, Iceland (not a EU Member State), Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein (not a EU Member State), Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway (not a EU Member State), Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland (not a EU Member State).