Today, the European Parliament adopted the Commission's proposal to reform the rules on Schengen visas, making it easier for bona fide travellers to obtain a visa to come to Europe for short stays, whilst strengthening security standards and reducing irregular migration risks.
Welcoming today's vote, Commissioner for Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “The new rules will facilitate tourism, trade and business while enhancing our security standards to detect those who pose a threat or have no right to enter the EU. They will also help improve cooperation with non-EU countries on the return and readmission of irregular migrants.”
The tourism and travel industry plays a key role in the European economy, representing around 10% of the EU's GDP. Whilst 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. At the same time, the benefits of visa travel need to be balanced with measures to adequately respond to present and future security and migration challenges.
The new rules include in particular:
- More flexible procedures: Travellers will be able to submit their applications up to 6 months in advance of their planned trip (9 months for seafarers), instead of the current 3 months, and in most cases, directly from their country of residence. Where available, they may also fill in and sign their applications electronically. Minors between 6 and 18 years old may be exempted from the visa fee.
- Multiple entry visas with longer validity: Thanks to the introduction of common mandatory rules, frequent travellers with a positive visa history can receive a multiple-entry visa with a gradually increasing validity period from 1 year to a maximum of 5 years, saving time and costs for applicants and Member States. Travellers' fulfilment of entry conditions will be thoroughly and repeatedly verified in all cases.
- Additional resources for strengthening security: In view of significantly increased processing costs over the past years, a moderate increase of the visa fee (from €60 to €80) will be introduced. This modest increase will 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.
- Improving cooperation on readmission: The conditions for processing visa applications can be adapted depending on whether non-EU country cooperates satisfactorily on the return and readmission of irregular migrants. If needed, the Commission, together with Member States, can decide on a more restrictive or a more generous implementation of certain provisions of the Visa Code, including the maximum processing time of applications, the length of validity of visas issued, the level of the visa fee and the exemption of such fees for certain travellers.
The new rules will now have to be formally approved by the Council. After that, the adopted text will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and will become applicable 6 months later.
The common EU visa policy facilitates travel to the EU for tourism and business purposes, contributing to the EU's economy and growth, people to people contacts and cultural exchanges. In 2017 alone, over 14 million Schengen visas were issued for short stay visits (see the latest statistics on Schengen visas).
The current visa rules are set in the Visa Code and date back to 2010. Since then, the environment in which visa policy operates has drastically changed. Over the last years, the EU has been faced with increased security concerns and challenges linked to migration, while new opportunities deriving from technological developments call for an update of the visa policy to ensure it remains fit for purpose. This is why in March 2018 the Commission proposed to modernise the EU's common visa policy and revise the Visa Code.
There are currently 105 non-EU countries and entities that require a visa to travel to Schengen area (the full list is available here). Generally, a short-stay visa issued by one of the Schengen States entitles its holder to travel throughout the 26 Schengen States for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.