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Simpler, more flexible visa rules

02 April 2014
by eub2 -- last modified 02 April 2014

Many non-EU nationals wishing to travel to the EU are often faced with cumbersome, lengthy and costly visa procedures. The proposals presented today will seriously shorten and simplify the procedures for those wanting to come to the EU for short stays, and induce more cost savings and less bureaucracy, whilst maintaining the level of security. Making the access to the Schengen area easier for legitimate travellers will facilitate visiting friends and relatives and doing business. It will boost economic activity and job creation in, for instance, the tourism sector as well as in related activities such as restaurant and transport industries. A recent study shows that in 2012 a total number of 6.6 million potential travellers from six of the countries with the most travellers were 'lost' due to cumbersome visa procedures. It also showed that more flexible and accessible visa rules could lead to an increase in trips to the Schengen area of between 30% and up to 60%, only from these six countries. This could mean as much as EUR 130 billion in total direct spending over five years (in accommodation, food and drink, transports, entertainment, shopping, etc.), and could translate into some 1.3 million jobs in tourism and related sectors.


What are the existing rules?

A central element of the common visa policy is the Visa Code that sets out the procedures and conditions for issuing visas for the purpose of short stays and airport transit.

Since it entered into force on 5 April 2010, the Visa Code has contributed to facilitate legitimate travel and tackle irregular immigration, by: - improving consular organisation and cooperation; - strengthening procedural guarantees, and; - reinforcing equal treatment of visa applicants through harmonised application of the rules.

The implementation of all the provisions is however not always optimal and more should be done to address more effectively the challenges faced by visa applicants and Member States' consulates.

In addition, a 2012 Commission Communication highlighted the need for the common visa policy to also address potential for generating economic growth and new job.

What could be the benefit of improved visa rules and practices?

While contacts between people and cultures promote mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue, it is also in the EU's interests to be 'open' to visitors, as travellers contribute to economic growth.

Indeed, tourism has a considerable impact on the economy as a whole, through spending in accommodation, food and drink, transport, entertainment, shopping, etc.

A 2013 study on the economic impact of short stay visa facilitations on the tourism industry gives an idea of their potential economic benefit2.

The findings show that, by introducing various procedural facilitations, an increase in trips to the Schengen area of up to 60 % could be expected, from the six target markets of the study.

Different facilitation scenarios could lead to a total of 13 to 14 million travellers, leading to between EUR 22 to 25 billion in total direct spending per year.

Over five years, this could mean as much as between EUR 120 and 130 billion in total direct spending, translating into between 1.2 and 1.3 million jobs in tourism and related sectors.

What problems need to be addressed?

The Commission proposals address four main problem areas, which are also illustrated by the results of a public consultation carried out in June 2013.

(1) The overall length and cost as well as the cumbersome nature of the procedure. This relates in particular to the fact that the same procedures are applied to all applicants, irrespective of their country of origin or of their individual situation. Currently, Schengen States do not sufficiently distinguish in their practices between unknown applicants and applicants who have a positive visa record, e.g. when issuing multiple entry visas (MEV).

Excerpt from a complaint letter received by the Commission:

"As an example, below is a listing of my Schengen Visas over the past 10 years:


Ten visas over a period of ten years are far too many.  […] I fail to see the logic and value of issuing short term visas, if one repeatedly demonstrates that he/she has a stable life in his/her home country, has the means to cover travel expenses, has returned home within the stipulated duration, and in no way poses a security risk.  […] I also applied to UK and USA visas in 2006 and 2010 respectively; and in both cases was issued 10 year multiple entry visas, as apparently I was able to satisfy whatever criteria these two countries were looking for.  So I don't have to worry about applying again for 10 years and this is what I would also expect in the case of Schengen States."

(2) The lack of access to consulates (or external service providers) to lodge the visa application because the competent Schengen visa issuing authority is not present in the applicant's country of residence. This proves costly and time-consuming for visa applicants having to travel abroad to apply for a Schengen visa.

Excerpt from a response to the public consultation:

"Me and my relatives find very complicated and bureaucratic process to apply for Schengen visa to Denmark. So, some of my relatives reside in Uzbekistan and some reside in Denmark. There is no way to apply for Schengen visa for them in Uzbekistan, there is no any embassies in Uzbekistan responsible for DK. Yes, it was possible 3 years ago, via German embassy in Tashkent. But now, all have to travel first to Moscow, apply there for Schengen visa in Danish embassy, wait for couple of weeks there."

(3) The need to facilitate family visits of family members of EU citizens irrespective of where the EU citizen resides

The Visa Code applies to visa applications lodged by all third-country nationals, including family members of Union citizens. There are currently no specific procedures that would facilitate family visits for third-country nationals visiting close relatives who are Union citizens residing in the Member State of which they are nationals and for close relatives of Union citizens residing in a third country and wishing to visit together the Member State of which the Union citizen has the nationality.

While the recently concluded Visa Facilitation Agreements provide certain procedural facilitations (e.g. simplification of the requirements regarding supporting documents, visa fee waiver, mandatory issuing of MEVs), those only apply to the nationals of the third country concerned by the VFA.

To ensure a level playing field, procedural facilitations should be granted, as a rule, to all those who are in either of the two situations described above.

At the same time, the Directive on the right of EU citizens and their families to move and reside freely within the EU (Directive 2004/38/EC, Article 5(2)) provides particular facilitations in general terms to the beneficiaries of that Directive. The Commission however receives many complaints and requests for clarification on the relationship between this Directive and the Visa Code, as facilitations provided to family members of Union citizens on the basis of the Directive are apparently implemented differently in different Member States.

(4) The lack of authorisation for non-EU nationals – whether visa requiring or visa exempted - who have a legitimate interest in, and need for, travelling in the Schengen area for more than 90 days in any 180-day period without being considered as 'immigrants'. The current legal framework does not provide an authorisation that would correspond to their needs/itinerary.

Excerpt from a complaint letter received by the Commission:

"We have worked and saved a lifetime to travel Europe when we retired in a motorhome. Now we find out we only have 90 days, then have to leave for 90 days because of the Schengen laws, hardly enough time to begin to see the Continent. We have our own finances, health and travel insurance, etc. Is there any exception or special visa for people like us who just want to travel, pumping money into the local economies?"

Why making a distinction between first-time applicants and well-known applicants?

Current procedural facilitations for applicants known to the consulates are not used systematically: the same procedures are often applied to all applicants and multiple entry visas (MEV) with long validity are not issued as often as they should.

This is unfortunate, as a MEV is the most important and most tangible facilitation that travellers can get, allowing them to travel more spontaneously. Issuing more MEVs would also ease the administrative burden for both applicants and consulates.

That is why the Commission proposes mandatory rules, on the basis of clearly defined and objective criteria, to enable a clear distinction to be made between categories of applicants.

This distinction is also made with regards to the lodging of the application. Under the current rules a visa application must always be lodged in person. This can be not only time consuming but also rather excessive for persons with a positive visa record. Therefore, the Commission proposes to abolish this general requirement. All first time applicants must present themselves in person when lodging the application because their fingerprints are to be collected (and stored in the VIS). Fingerprints are stored for 59 months and then they must be collected again.

How will such distinction be made?

The Visa Information System (VIS), which is expected to be fully operational worldwide in 2015, will give Member States access to all data related to applicant's previous visa applications.

It will therefore be easy to distinguish between the first-time, 'unknown' applicant not yet registered in the VIS with no 'visa history', and the applicant whose data are already registered.

What will be the rules for issuing multiple entry visas to 'VIS registered regular travellers'?

Specific procedural facilitations are proposed for 'VIS registered regular travellers' (those who have obtained and lawfully used two visa in the 12 months prior to their application). Such facilitations would include waiving of the requirement to submit certain supporting documents and the issuing of MEVs with a long period of validity.

Concretely, such applicants should only have to submit supporting documents proving the travel purpose and should be granted a MEV valid for three years.

Applicants who previously obtained and lawfully used such a three-year MEV should, for their next application receive a MEV with a validity of five years.

Will there be improvements only for 'VIS registered regular travellers'?

No. Overall procedural facilitations will be introduced for all visa applicants (including someone who has not applied for a visa before):

In terms of deadlines.

- The maximum deadline for lodging an application has been increased to allow travellers to plan ahead and avoid peak seasons (all applicants will be able to lodge their applications up to 6 months ahead of the intended trip, instead of only 3 months currently);

- A shorter deadline for the examination of applications has been set (10 days instead of 15). Concerning the examination of applications from family members or close relatives of EU citizens this deadline is set to be 5 days.

In terms of documents.

- The visa application form has been simplified;

- The list of supporting documents (to be provided with each application) is no longer a "non-exhaustive list" (thereby ensuring more consistency in the requirements by Member States' consulates) and equal treatment of applicants;

- The need to provide a travel medical insurance (TMI) has been abolished.

In terms of information to the public.

- A common Schengen visa internet website is to be created by the Commission (with information on the general rules of procedures and direct access to Member States' own websites with specific relevant information);

- A template for the information to be given to visa applicants is to be developed by the Commission.

Will all these procedural facilitations have a negative impact on security and public order in the Schengen States?

No. There will not be any negative impact. While benefiting from general procedural facilitations, first-time applicants would still need thorough screening. This is necessary to preserve the security of the system and will ensure that they enjoy significant facilitations if they apply again (i.e. they will benefit from 'VIS registered regular traveller' status, with accompanying facilitations, if they apply for a third visa within 12 months of their lawfully used first visas).

What is expected in terms of access to lodge visa applications?

The introduction of the concept of 'mandatory representation' will considerably increase the visa issuing presence in third countries.

Concretely, consular coverage will be secured for all applicants irrespective of their destination in the Schengen area in any third country where there is at least one consulate processing visa applications: visa applicants would be entitled to lodge their application at any consulate which will then process their application.

Mandatory representation would therefore have a positive impact for applicants who would be able to lodge the application in their country of residence instead of having to travel long distances to a neighbouring country where the competent Schengen State is present/represented.

The legal framework regarding the forms of consular cooperation has been simplified in order to boost the establishment of common visa centres, co-locations, etc. In principle, cooperation among Member States could take any form adapted to local circumstances.

What are the changes for family members of Union citizens?

The Commission proposes to further ease mobility for close relatives of Union citizens. Procedural facilitations (shorter deadlines, visa fee waiver, exemption from providing certain supporting documents) would be provided for third-country nationals visiting close relatives who are Union citizens residing in the Member State of which they are nationals and for close relatives of Union citizens residing in a third country and wishing to visit together the Member State of which the Union citizen has the nationality. Currently there are no facilitations provided for these situations.

In addition, the same facilitations should as a minimum apply to family members of EU citizens benefiting from Directive 2004/38/EC (on the right of EU citizens and their families to move and reside freely within the EU).

Why allowing the temporary issuing of visas at the external borders?

This is quite important to boost short term tourism. Generally, visas can only exceptionally (e.g. emergency situations and humanitarian cases) be applied for and issued at the external border. The Commission now proposes to allow Member States to issue visas at the external borders on a temporary basis, in order to promote short term tourism.

This proposal has been very much inspired by a Greek pilot project, which was aimed at facilitating short trips to the Greek islands for tourists spending their holiday on the Turkish coast.

Such temporary schemes should be notified to the Commission in advance and the categories of beneficiaries and the geographical scope should be clearly defined. The visas issued under such temporary schemes would only allow access to the territory of the issuing Member State for a stay of maximum 15 days.

Who could apply for the new 'Touring-Visa'?

Any non EU-national who has an interest in, and need for, travelling in the EU for more than 90 days per 180 days but does not want to reside in any of the EU countries for a period beyond 90 days (and is therefore not eligible for a national long-stay visa or a residence permit).

Typically it concerns live performing artists who tour the Schengen area for a prolonged period, but also individual travellers, such as students, researchers, trainees, young people participating in youth exchanges, artists and culture professionals, pensioners, business people.

With this new specific visa they would no longer have to leave the Schengen area after the expiry of their Schengen visa or at the end of their 90 days visa-free stay. Instead they would be able to come and stay in two or more Schengen States for up to a year, with the possibility of extension up to two years (without staying in any one Member State for more than 90 days in any 180-day period).

Report 'A smarter Visa Policy for economic growth'

Proposal for a Regulation on the Union Code on Visas (Visa Code)

Proposal for a Regulation establishing a touring visa


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