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Brussels, 19 April 2010

Stranded passengers in the EU: special derogations to be applied for short stay Visa holders and passengers in transit

The closure of the European airspace since 15 April 2010 has meant that journeys of a number of third country nationals subject to the visa requirement for staying in or transiting through the territory of the Schengen States have been disrupted. Urgent measures must, therefore, be taken to overcome the different situations of distress. The European Commission recommends Member States apply special derogations to certain categories of travellers and in particular:

1) Persons holding a short stay visa that has expired on or after 15 April 2010:

Many people have not been able to leave the territory of the Member States before the expiry of their short stay Schengen visa. Given the extraordinary situation and the high numbers of persons concerned, the European Commission recommends a derogation from the general rules for persons whose visas have expired or will expire in the period from 15 April 2010 until the reopening of the European airspace. These people will be allowed to remain within the territory of the Schengen States until the normalisation of air traffic without having to apply for the extension of their visas. The passport of these persons should be stamped upon exit without considering these persons as having stayed beyond the authorised period.

2) Persons who did not intend to enter into the area of the Member States but are forced to do so:

Two categories of persons are considered: firstly, persons who cannot return to their country of residence by air and who wish to transit by land (e.g. a person holding a return ticket from London to Tirana but who wishes to return by ferry and train). Secondly, persons who intended to transit via the international transit area of a Schengen airport but are forced to leave the airport to find accommodation until the onward journey can take place. The Commission recommends that these persons be issued visas at the external borders in accordance with Article 35 of the Visa Code and the Handbook for the processing of visa applications and the modification of issued visas. Since the third country nationals concerned had no intention of entering into the territory of the Member States but are compelled to do so for reasons of "force majeure", the Commission recommends derogating from certain provisions and in particular to waive the visa fee and not to insist on the applicant being in possession of travel medical insurance.

Commenting on the request for derogation to the Member States, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, stated: ''The new visa rules are being tested with this unprecedented disruption of air travel. Many foreigners visiting the EU are unable to return home to their countries and many of them are worried about their visas expiring: we can reassure them that they will not be considered as staying irregularly in the EU and will not need to request a visa extension. We can also reassure those who are forced to enter or to transit through EU territory that we will be completely flexible in order to help them return to their countries. I am glad that our common visa system is demonstrating proof of flexibility and efficiency."

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