Bulgaria opens to Schengen visa holders to boost tourism
(SOFIA) - Bulgaria said Wednesday it had decided to offer visa-free business and tourist travel to all Schengen visa holders, despite remaining outside Europe's border-free travel area.
All holders of valid Schengen visas would have the right to enter Bulgaria and reside there for up to three months for every six-month period without the need for a short-stay Bulgarian visa, the government said in a statement.
"The decision will benefit the citizens of all countries that currently have visa regimes with Bulgaria and the EU... such as China, Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan and others," it added.
This would make travel easier for businessmen and tourists with Schengen visas, who until now needed a separate Bulgarian visa to travel to the country's Black Sea and mountain resorts, the government said.
Bulgaria had hoped to join the Schengen area last year along with neighbour and fellow EU newcomer Romania.
But the two countries' entry is still being blocked by the Netherlands, which alleged poor progress in the fight against corruption and organised crime, although the two countries met all the technical criteria for entry.
The Schengen area, which allows travellers to move freely without obtaining separate visas for each country once inside, has come under growing strain over fears about illegal migration.
Over six million tourists visited Bulgaria between January and November 2011, with almost 20 percent more Russians than a year earlier, data from the economy ministry shows.