Visa reciprocity is a central principle of the EU's common visa policy and an objective which the Union pursues in a proactive manner in its relations with non-EU countries. This principle means that the EU, when deciding on lifting the visa requirement for citizens of a non-EU country, takes into consideration whether that non-EU country reciprocally grants visa waiver to nationals 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 current visa reciprocity mechanism is established by Regulation (EU) 1289/2013 and entered into force in January 2014. It foresees that if a visa-free non-EU country has not lifted the visa requirement for all EU citizens within 24 months of the publication date of a Member State's notification of non-reciprocity (in the present case by 12 April 2016), the Commission, taking into account the consequences of the suspension of the visa waiver for the external relations of the EU and its Member States, can temporarily suspend the visa waiver for 12 months for nationals of that country.
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).
Why is the Commission reporting again on visa reciprocity with the U.S. and Canada?
The Commission reports regularly on progress made in achieving visa reciprocity with the latest report published in December 2016.
The last report was in May 2017, when the Commission reverted to the matter to define its position following the European Parliament resolution of 2 March 2017.
What progress has been made in the discussions with Canada and the U.S. on visa reciprocity?
As of 1 December, full visa reciprocity is in place with Canada after the remaining visa requirements were lifted for all Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. The decision comes after intensive diplomatic efforts and continued engagement at political and technical levels between the EU, Canada and the two Member States concerned.
The United States
Over the last months, contacts with the U.S. at the political and technical level have intensified. The Commission is leading a result-oriented process to bring the five EU Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania) into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
In June Commissioner Avramopoulos and Elaine C. Duke, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a Joint Statement in which both sides committed to stepping up efforts towards achieving a full visa reciprocity between the EU and U.S. During the EU-U.S. Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial meeting on 17 November both parties noted progress made in cooperative discussions and committed to continue their engagement. In the coming months, the Commission in close cooperation with the five Members States will continue this engagement with the U.S. at all levels. This should lead to intensified and concrete action on all sides to resolve the remaining issues to bring the five EU Member States affected into the Visa Waiver Program.
As the 3% visa refusal threshold set by the US remains the key obstacle for joining the Visa Waiver Program, the Commission will continue to work closely with the five Member States concerned and its U.S. counterparts to achieve full visa reciprocity.
Why is the Commission not proposing the reintroduction of visas for citizens from the United States?
In view of the significant progress achieved over the past two and a half years the Commission maintains its position that diplomatic engagement continues to be the most appropriate way forward and continues to believe that the adoption of measures temporarily reintroducing visa requirements for U.S. nationals would be counterproductive and would not serve the objective of achieving visa-free travel for all EU citizens. Suspending the visa waiver for US citizens would likely deteriorate rather than improve the situation for citizens and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. The five Member States concerned and the United States continue to engage in a result-oriented process in order to accelerate the work on the outstanding Visa Waiver Program requirements. The Commission believes that progress can be achieved with continued engagement and diplomatic contacts – the full visa reciprocity attained with Canada, in force since 1st December 2017 is the best proof of this. However, the Commission will keep this position under review in light of future developments.
Why is the Commission assessing today the efficiency of the reciprocity mechanism?
The Commission is required to submit a report to the European Parliament and to the Council, by 10 January 2018, assessing the effectiveness of the reciprocity mechanism. To meet this obligation, the Commission evaluated in today's report the reciprocity mechanism and the need to review the existing legal framework.
Is the reciprocity mechanism efficient?
In 2014, the Commission received notifications of non-reciprocity situations from five Member States: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. These notifications related to Canada, the United States, Australia, Brunei and Japan. Since then, the number of non-reciprocity cases has been considerably reduced, leaving the U.S. as the only third country which does not grant reciprocal visa-free access to the citizens of all Member States. In this light, it can be considered that in general terms the visa reciprocity mechanism has been effective.
Although all progress cannot solely be attributed to the mechanism, it is clear that the mechanism has allowed for collective and coordinated EU action in non-reciprocity cases, and has proven to be a useful tool towards some non-EU countries.
At this point in time, the Commission is not considering revising the mechanism and will instead continue to pursue its current approach – based on engagement at political and technical level – to achieve full visa reciprocity for all Member States.
What are the next steps?
The Commission will continue pursuing an intensified dialogue with the United States and the Member States concerned in order to achieve full visa waiver reciprocity.
The Commission will report to the European Parliament and the Council on further developments at the latest by the autumn of 2018.
For more information
Press release: Visa reciprocity: Political and diplomatic efforts continue to yield results
Communication adopted on 20 December 2017 - State of play and possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy and assessment of the effectiveness of the reciprocity mechanism provided for in Article 1(4) of Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001
Communication adopted on 2 May 2017 – Communication defining the position of the Commission following the European Parliament resolution of 2 March 2017 on obligations of the Commission in the field of visa reciprocity and reporting on the progress achieved
Communication adopted on 21 December 2016 - State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy (Follow-up to the Communication of 12 April)
Communicationadopted on 13 July 2016
Communication of 12 April 2016 - State of play and way forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity
5 November 2015 – Report from the Commission assessing the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy
22 April 2015 - Report from the Commission assessing the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy
10 October 2014 - Report from the Commission assessing the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy
Council Regulation listing those countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement (Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001)
Regulation amending Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 listing the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement (Regulation (EU) 1289/2013)