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EU visa reciprocity mechanism

14 July 2016
by eub2 -- last modified 14 July 2016

The European Commission adopted a Communication on 13 July regarding the visa reciprocity situation with Canada and the United States, evaluating the progress achieved in discussions with both countries and setting out the next steps.


What is the visa reciprocity mechanism?

The visa reciprocity mechanism is a legal provision under EU law aiming to achieve visa-free travel for citizens of all Member States (except the UK and Ireland who do not participate in the common visa policy) to every non-EU country whose citizens can travel to the EU/Schengen area without a visa.

The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a visa and of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement (see Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001).

In the spirit of solidarity, the EU seeks that third countries on the visa free list grant a visa waiver to citizens of all EU Member States. For this reason, a visa reciprocity mechanism has been set up.

The current mechanism was introduced by Regulation (EU) 1289/2013 and entered into force in January 2014.

Which countries continue to require visas from EU citizens despite the fact that their nationals can travel to the EU/Schengen area without a visa?

  • The U.S. requires visas for the citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. In addition, the U.S. Congress adopted new travel restrictions in December 2015 that potentially concern all Member States admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (e.g. a French-Iranian dual national now needs a visa to the U.S.). The visa refusal statistics for 2015 are, for Bulgaria: 17.26%; Croatia 5.29%; Cyprus: 3.53%; Poland: 6.37%; Romania: 11.16%.

  • Canada continues to apply a visa requirement for the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania. The visa refusal rate for these two countries remains well above the required 4% threshold over the last 3 years (the 2013-2015 average is around 16% for both countries.

Why did the College discuss visa reciprocity with the US and Canada again?

On 12 April 2016, the Commission adopted a Communication on visa reciprocity. In the Communication the Commission considered that a temporary suspension of visa waiver under the EU's reciprocity mechanism for Canadian and U.S. citizens would have a substantial impact on the EU's external relations with these two countries; it would very likely lead to significant negative impacts for the EU and it would not bring full visa reciprocity for all EU citizens. Therefore, the Commission invited the European Parliament and the Council to launch discussions and to take a position by 12 July 2016on the most appropriate way forward. The Commission today to revert to the matter to take stock of developments in the past three months.

Did the European Parliament and the Council inform the Commission on their respective positions?

The Council did not express a position and no plenary discussion took place in the European Parliament on the matter. However, the Chairman of the Committeeon Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament sent a letter to the Commission on 7 June requesting the Commission to adopt the delegated acts suspending the visa requirement for citizens of Canada and the U.S.

Is the Commission proposing the reintroduction of visas for citizens from the US and Canada today?

No. The Commission has today adopted evaluated the progress achieved in discussions with both countries and set out the next steps. A decision to propose the suspension of visa waivers for citizens of third countries under the visa reciprocity mechanism must take into account the consequences of such a suspension for the external relations of the EU and its Member States.

At this point of time, the Commission considered that suspending the visa waiver for the citizens of these two countries would have a substantial impact on the EU's external relations with Canada and the US and would very likely lead to significantly negative impacts for the EU whtout bringing full visa reciprocity for all EU citizens. Suspending the visa waiver would rather deteriorate than improve situation for citizens and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.

What are the next steps?

A series of high level meetings with both Canada and the U.S. countries are planned in the coming months, where the Commission will further raise the issue of visa waiver reciprocity. The EU-Canada Summit will take place by end of October and the next EU-US Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial meeting is foreseen before the end of the year. In addition, technical contacts will also be further intensified. The Commission commits to continue to push for full visa reciprocity and will coordinate its activities with the relevant Member States to accelerate the delivery of results. The Commission will work closely with both the European Parliament and the Council to ensure that the European Union speaks with one voice on this important matter and will report on the further progress made before the end of the year

What has the Commission done so far to achieve full visa reciprocity with the US and Canada?

Today's Communication shows that in the past three months contacts with the US and Canada have been intensified, including at the highest political level, to achieve full visa waiver reciprocity.

Among other meetings, on 11 July Commissioner Avramopoulos had a productive meeting with Immigration Minister John McCallum as well as Bulgarian and Romanian counterparts. At this meeting, the Canadian side undertook to inform in early autumn on the outcomes of the assessment of their technical expert missions to the two Member States and timelines for lifting the visa requirement, including on the necessary elements of cooperation with Bulgaria and Romania.

The Commission will continue its work until all non-reciprocity cases are solved.

Further information

Press release - Visa reciprocity with US and Canada: Commission takes stock of latest developments - Follow-up Communication adopted on 13 July 2016