The European Commission said on March 14 that it was proposing to reform the EU’s common visa policy “to adapt the rules to evolving security concerns, challenges linked to migration and new opportunities offered by technological developments”.
The proposed changes to the Visa Code will make it easier for legitimate travellers to obtain a visa to come to Europe, facilitating tourism, trade and business, while strengthening security and mitigating irregular migration risks, the Commission said.
Under new rules proposed by the Commission, countries that fail to co-operate on illegal migrant returns could face a restrictive visa policy. The restrictions may include longer visa processing times, higher costs, fewer exemptions given to visiting diplomats or greater restrictions on the length of time they can stay in the EU.
European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Every year, millions of travellers visit the EU and boost our travel and tourism industry.
“With the reforms we propose today it will become easier and faster for legitimate travellers to obtain a visa while security standards will be enhanced to better detect and stop those who are not. The new rules will also make sure our common visa policy can help improve our cooperation with non-EU countries when it comes to the return of irregular migrants.”
The tourism and travel industry plays a key role in the European economy, representing about 10 per cent of the EU’s GDP. While EU Member States are among the world’s leading tourist destinations, lengthy and cumbersome procedures can deter tourists from travelling to Europe, redirecting investment and spending to other countries and affecting the EU’s economy negatively, the Commission said.
At the same time, the benefits of visa travel need to be balanced alongside improved migration, security and border management to adequately respond to present and future security and migration challenges.
The Commission said that the March 14 proposed amendments to the Visa Code are the first step of the reform of the common EU visa policy – a proposal to update the Visa Information System (VIS) will follow in spring this year.
The updates proposed today are aimed at “modernising and streamlining” the common EU visa rules, facilitating the process for issuing visas both for legitimate travellers and member states, while strengthening the security standards of the visa procedure.
One point is faster and more flexible procedures: The decision making time for visa applications will be reduced from 15 to 10 days. It will be possible for travellers to submit their applications up to 6 months in advance of their planned trip, instead of the current three months, and to fill in and sign their applications electronically.
It also envisages multiple entry visas with longer validity: Harmonised rules will apply to multiple entry visas to better prevent “visa shopping” and to reduce costs and save time for EU countries and frequent travellers. Such multiple entry visas will be issued to “trusted regular travellers” with a positive visa history for a gradually increasing period from one up to five years. Travellers’ fulfilment of entry conditions will be thoroughly and repeatedly verified.
Also envisaged are short-term visas at external borders: “To facilitate short-term tourism, member states will be allowed to issue single-entry visas directly at external land and sea borders under temporary, seasonal schemes subject to strict conditions. Such visas will be valid for a stay of a maximum of seven days in the issuing member state only.
Additional resources to reinforce security: In view of significantly increased processing costs over the past years, a moderate increase of the visa fee (from 60 to 80 euro)– which has not increased since 2006 – will be introduced.
“This moderate increase is meant to allow member states to maintain adequate levels of consular staff worldwide to ensure stronger security screenings, as well as the upgrading of IT equipment and software, without representing an obstacle for the visa applicants,” the Commission said.