MSs and Europol access for consultation of the Visa Information System (VIS)

Council Decision 2008/633/JHA, of June 23rd, concerning access for consultation of the Visa Information System (VIS) by designated authorities of Member States and by Europol for the purposes of the prevention, detection and investigation of terrorist offences and of other serious criminal offences, was published in the OJEU on August 13th. This Decision complements Regulation (EC) Nº 767/2008 concerning the VIS and the exchange of data between Member States on short-stay visas, the so-called “VIS Regulation”, which was published on the same date

The establishment of the Visa Information System (VIS) by the Council Decision 2004/512/EC of 8 June 2004, represented one of the key initiatives within the policies of the European Union aimed at establishing an area of freedom, security and justice. The VIS would therefore have the purpose of improving the implementation of the common visa policy and also contribute towards internal security and to combating terrorism under clearly defined and monitored circumstances.

This Decision lays down the conditions under which Member States' designated authorities and the European Police Office (Europol) may obtain access for consultation of the VIS for the purposes of the prevention, detection and investigation of terrorist offences and of other serious criminal offences. The Decision complements Regulation (EC) Nº 767/2008, which defines the purpose of, the functionalities of and the responsibilities for the VIS, some general principles,  data that have to be added for visa issuing.

For a transitional period, the Commission should be responsible for the operational management of the central VIS, of the national interfaces and of certain aspects of the communication infrastructure between the central VIS and the national interfaces.

Those provisions constitute a development of provisions of the Schengen acquis, therefore causing certain special situation for countries such as Ireland, which is not taking part in its adoption and is not bound by it or subject to its application.

Requests for access to the VIS should be made by the operating units within the designated authorities to the central access points. These central access points should then process the requests for access to the VIS following a verification whether all conditions for access are fulfilled. Member States will designate those authorities, keeping a list with them, that will have to be notified to the Commission and the General Secretariat of the Council by December 2nd 2008.

Access to the VIS for consultation by designated authorities will take place within the scope of their powers and if the following conditions are met:

  • Access for consultation must be necessary for the purpose of the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences.
  • Access for consultation must be necessary in a specific case.
  • There are reasonable grounds to consider that consultation of VIS data will substantially contribute to the prevention, detection or investigation of any of the criminal offences in
  • question.

Also, consultation of the VIS shall be limited to searching with any of the following VIS data in the application file:

  • Surname, surname at birth (former surname(s)); first name(s); sex; date, place and country of birth.
  • Current nationality and nationality at birth.
  • Type and number of the travel document, the authority which issued it and the date of issue and of expiry.
  • Main destination and duration of the intended stay.
  • Purpose of travel.
  • Intended date of arrival and departure.
  • Intended border of first entry or transit route.
  • Residence.
  • Fingerprints.
  • Type of visa and the number of the visa sticker.
  • Details of the person issuing an invitation and/or liable to pay the applicant's subsistence costs during the stay.

In the case of Europol, access to the VIS will be granted when it is necessary for the performance of its tasks and for the purposes of a specific analysis or if it is necessary for an analysis of a general nature and of a strategic type, provided that VIS data is rendered anonymous by Europol prior to such processing and retained in a form in which identification of the data subjects is no longer possible.

This Decision shall enter into force on September the 1st, and will take effect from a date to be determined by the Council once the Commission has informed that Regulation (EC) No 767/2008 has entered into force and is fully applicable. This date will be published in the OJEU.