The European Commission (EC) has announced proposed changes to the EU’s Schengen visa system that it says will simplify procedures and benefit those coming to the EU for short visits while also maintaining the level of security.
Among the proposals is the introduction of a new “touring visa” for non-EU nationals travelling within the Schengen zone for up to a year.
The EC said in an April 1 2014 statement that many non-EU nationals wanting to travel to the EU were 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, while maintaining the level of security,” the EC said.
Making 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.”
The EC cited recent studies showing that up to 6.6 million potential travellers were “lost” because of cumbersome visa procedures, and said that more flexible and accessible rules could significantly boost visitor numbers.
“Europe needs a smarter visa policy,” Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs, said.
“We need to attract more tourists, business people, researchers, students, artists and culture professionals to our shores. Now, we want to boost our economy and create new jobs by underlining the economic dimension in our visa policy, while keeping a high level of security at our borders. Today’s proposals will greatly facilitate the procedures for short stay visitors. Thanks to these proposals we expect a serious increase of travellers in the years to come,” Malmström said.
Antonio Tajani, European Commission Vice President responsible for industry and entrepreneurship, said that the EC proposal would help the European tourism industry at a time when international competition is becoming increasingly fierce with a growing number of countries relying on tourism as a factor for growth.
The main elements of the proposals include:
- Reducing the deadline from 15 to 10 days for processing and taking a decision;
- Making it possible to lodge visa applications in other EU countries consulates if the Member State competent for processing the visa application is neither present nor represented;
- Substantial facilitations for regular travellers including mandatory issuing of multiple entry visas valid for three years;
- Simplified application form and allowing for online applications
- Possibility for Member States to devise special schemes granting visas at the borders for up to 15 days in one Schengen State;
- Possibility for Member States to facilitate the issuing of visa for visitors attending major events;
- A new type of visa (Touring-visa) allowing legitimate travellers to circulate in the Schengen area for up to one year (without staying in one Member State for more than 90 days in any 180-day period).
The EC said that the “Touring Visa” will allow legitimate non-EU nationals entering the Schengen area to circulate for up to one year in this zone (without staying in one Member State for more than 90 days in any 180-day period), with the possibility of an extension for up to two years (provided that the applicant does not stay for more than 90 days in any 180-day period in the same Member State).
“This would for instance, apply to live-performing artists who tour the Schengen area for a prolonged period, but also to individual travellers, such as tourists, researchers and students who wish to spend more time in Europe.”
The proposal will require the agreement of the European Council and European Parliament. This is expected in 2015 at the earliest.
Once the proposals enter into force, the changes will apply to all EU member states applying the common Schengen visa policy in full as well as the four Schengen associated States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). Bulgaria, Croatia, Ireland, Cyprus, Romania and the UK are not part of Schengen.