What is the visa reciprocity mechanism?
Visa reciprocity is a fundamental 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 EU Member States (except the UK and Ireland who do not participate in the common visa policy). The principle also applies to every non-EU country whose citizens already have the right to travel to the Schengen area without a visa.
The current visa reciprocity mechanism (Regulation (EU) 2018/1806) requires Member States to notify cases when non-EU countries, whose citizens can travel visa free to the EU, require visas for EU nationals. If such a country does not lift the visa requirements within 24 months since the notification by a Member State of a case of non-reciprocity, the Commission can temporarily suspend the visa waiver for 12 months for nationals of that country. In doing so it must take into account the consequences of the suspension of the visa waiver for the external relations of the EU and its Member States.
The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a visa when travelling to the Schengen area and of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement (see Regulation (EU) 2018/1806).
Why is the Commission reporting on visa non-reciprocity again today?
The Commission regularly reports on progress made in achieving visa reciprocity. The last report was published in December 2017, and previous ones were in May 2017 as well as in April, July and December 2016.
What progress has been made in the discussions with the U.S. on achieving visa reciprocity?
Over the last year, contacts with the U.S. at the political and technical level have intensified. The Commission remains engaged in a result-oriented process to bring the five EU Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania) into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
Visa reciprocity was discussed at all official meetings between the EU and the U.S., including the two recent EU-U.S. Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial meetings – held in Sofia in May 2018 and in Washington D.C. in November 2018. Discussions also took place at the Senior Officials' meetings – held in February and in September 2018, and at the tripartite meetings – held between the Commission, the United States and the five Member States concerned, which took place in Washington D.C. in May 2018 and again in Brussels in October 2018.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania have made good progress with regard to the requirements set by the U.S.
- Visa refusal rate: While the visa refusal rates for Bulgaria and Croatia remain above the 3% threshold set in U.S. legislation, both countries have registered a steady decrease with rates down from 17.3% in 2015 to 14.97% in 2017 for Bulgaria and down from 6.8% in 2016 to 5.1% in 2017 for Croatia. The figures for Poland also show a steady downward trend and reached 5.92% in 2017, while the rates for Romania remained stable over the last years at around 11%. Cyprus has remained under the 3% threshold.
- Cooperation on security, crime and terrorism: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania have signed and ratified agreements on Preventing and Combating Serious Crime with the U.S., which is another of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program requirements, and are now working on their full implementation. Poland is working towards the signature of such an agreement. All five countries have also signed and ratified the Homeland Security Presidential Directive/Terrorist Screening Center Agreement and are working towards its full implementation. The five Member States concerned are also frequently reporting lost and stolen passports to Interpol, as required by the U.S.
The Commission, in close cooperation with the Members States concerned, will continue engaging with the U.S. to resolve the remaining issues to bring the five Member States into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
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 three and a half years, the Commission maintains its position that diplomatic engagement continues to be the most appropriate way forward. The Commission still considers that the adoption of measures temporarily reintroducing visa requirements for U.S. citizens would be counterproductive at this moment and would not help achieve visa-free travel for all EU citizens.
Suspending the visa waiver for U.S. citizens is not likely to improve the situation for citizens and businesses on either side 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 1 December 2017 is the best proof of this.
The Commission will however keep this position under review in light of future developments.
What are the next steps?
The Commission will continue to actively support the Member States concerned and to intensify contacts with the U.S. to achieve full visa reciprocity. The EU-U.S. Justice and Home Affairs Senior Officials' Meeting and the Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting, both scheduled for the first half of 2019, will provide occasions to advance further.
The Commission will continue to work closely with both the European Parliament and the Council to achieve full visa reciprocity and will report on the further developments in September 2019.
For More Information
Press Release: Visa non-reciprocity: Commission takes stock of progress and developments
Communication: State of play and way forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity in the area of visa policy