AEDH

Recast of the Visa Code: Above all, economic interests

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For several months, European institutions have been working on the reform of the community code on Visas. This text entered into force on 5th April 2010 establishing the conditions and procedures for the delivering of visas by Member States’ consulates[1].

The proposal published by the Commission on April 1st 2014 follows the conclusions of the assessment report after two years of implementation. This proposal has two complementary objectives: to make adjustments of the conditions for the deliverance of visas, in particular by making the procedure easier and by taking into account “the increased importance given to the economic impact of visa policy on overall EU economy especially in the tourism sector or business activities; create a “Touring Visa” through a regulation.

In other words, the Commission is developing a smarter visa policy. “We need to attract more tourists, business people, researchers, students, artists and culture professionals. Now, we want to boost our economy and create new jobs by underlining the economic dimension in our visa policy, while keeping a high level of security at our borders. (…) Thanks to these proposals we expect a serious increase of travellers in the years to come”.

The European Parliament (LIBE Committee) has conducted several hearings on the proposal and a draft report was presented to the LIBE committee by MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar (Spain, S&D) last September.

  A relaxation of procedural rules and an easier access to visas ?

The Commission has observed that due to too long, difficult and expensive procedures, the EU has lost 6.6 million potential travellers from the six countries with the largest number of travellers. Therefore, the Commission decided to make a series of proposals to simplify and ease the access to visas. Both the EP rapporteur as well as the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) agree on the need to bring more simplicity and make the procedure faster.

Among these new measures, one offers the possibility to introduce a demand of visa by a third party or online (with the required documents) and the demand to be assessed by a consular authority other than the targeted country (in case this country is not represented in the territory).

On this last point, the EESC is “convinced that we are approaching the time when it will be possible to move beyond the cultural and political reasons which led European states to establish national embassies, and that a single EU representation in third countries would constitute a qualitative leap forward in the way the EU addresses the rest of the world, giving new impetus to Europe’s unification process, also with respect to entry policy, which would solve many problems associated with different visa procedures and boost esteem and respect for the Union’s full political integration” .

However, the Commission’s proposal not to regulate the practices of outsourcing of consular services is far from being generally accepted, in particular not by the EP rapporteur.

The Commission also proposed to develop a multiple entry visa – possible for the duration of five years – which would permit travellers coming regularly to Europe to avoid many administrative procedures. The Commission also proposes to facilitate the access to European territory for family members of European citizens.

A Touring visa, but for who?

The purpose of this new regulation is to fill the gap between the two types of visas: The Schengen visa for short stay and national visas permitting to stay for a long period, valid as a residence permit. The first allows the holder to travel in all member states for a maximum period of 90 days, while the second allows him/her to stay longer but only on the territory of a single Member State.

This touring visa proposed by the Commission would borrow characteristic from both visas and allow the holder to stay longer than 90 days in the EU but not necessarily confined to one Member state.

Without entering into the details of the regulation which is currently being examined, one question remains open: Who will be able to benefit of such a visa? The Commission proposed two options. The first proposal is to restrict the access to the touring visa for a limited group of third-country nationals, in particular artists and athletes. The number of applicants per year is estimated to be around 60 000. The second option would include all the third-country nationals, namely, tourists, researchers, students, business women and men as well as family members of European citizens. The rapporteur of the European Parliament, JF López Aguilar supports the second option, highlighting that it is essential to allow third-country nationals to visit their families in the EU. This view is being shared by a number of other parliamentarians.

  Humanitarian visas, a position to be defended

On 17th June, AEDH has spoken at a hearing of the LIBE Committee on the visa “package”. AEDH defended the extension of the use of humanitarian visas in order to enable people seeking international protection to enter the EU regularly.

A study presented by the European Parliament on September 2014 cites data that has been collected by the European Migration Network (EMN) in 2012. This data shows that the humanitarian visa is very rarely used and that it can take three forms:

          National humanitarian visas (for a long stay) in Germany, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland and United Kingdom. The grounds for issuing the visas are not necessarily identical; they can be limited to a period of time or a particular situation (for example Christians from Iraq in France in 2010). For some countries, it is this kind of visa that provides the right of residence in case of a disease.

          Humanitarian Schengen visas (for short stays) in Finland, Italy, Malta, Portugal

          A combination of the two formula in Austria, Denmark, Spain, France, Poland and Netherlands

Only 16 countries are using the possibility of humanitarian visas, and this under various modalities, and on different grounds – far from a harmonised approach.

In its report to the European Parliament, JF López Aguilar, highlighted that “safe and legal ways of accessing the territory of the EU for persons fleeing from prosecution are necessary and that the issuing of a Schengen visa is one way[6]

His objective is to give greater latitude to consular staff while assessing the need for protection of an individual and to remind Member States of their international obligations.

This proposal received the support of certain parliamentarians, including MC. Vergiat (GUE/NGL, France) who lamented that refugees are unable to seek asylum in good conditions”[8]

AEDH admits that the recast of the Visa Code is necessary, in particular to simplify and to accelerate the procedures, in order to enable a more important number of third-country nationals to be granted access and to return more often to the European territory.

AEDH also agrees that more accessible visas can contribute to the economic development of the region, by reinforcing cooperation between European companies and their foreign partners and facilitating tourism.

However, it needs to be reminded that visas are also the principal “lock” for immigration and that restrictions imposed by Member States are ultimately one of the main reasons for people choosing “illegal” and dangerous ways of entering the EU.

 

According to the last statistics published by the European Commission in 2014, 15 684 796 visas have been issued, but at the same time, 851 010 have been refused. Among these refusals are persons who could not assert their right to family reunification, students that could not access the study program of their choice, workers that could not offer their competences and services to European companies… and people being persecuted in their home country, terrified by the violence around them.

AEDH bitterly regrets that the European Commission insisted on the necessity to enable third-country nationals to visit their family members when they are European citizens, but that it did not take into account all the European residents coming from third countries who are not able to assert their right to family reunification.

Furthermore, our association is surprised that no one voiced criticism against the refusal of 12 Member States to establish airport transit visas for Syrian refugees!

In other words, the recast of the Visa Code is necessary, but it should not be limited to a stylistic exercise and the reduction of technical requirements. 



[1] Regulation CE n°810/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009 establishing a Community Code on Visas

[2]Council JHA, Luxembourg, 8-9 October 2015 – http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/jha/2015/10/08-09/

[3] South Africa, Saudi Arabia, China, India, Russia and Ukraine

[4] EESC : Opinion of 10 September 2014 – http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.fr.soc-opinions.31906

[5] See Lopez Aguilar’s Draft Report on the Union Code on Visas, p. 67

[6] See Lopez Aguilar’s Draft Report on the Union Code on Visas, p. 67

EUlogos Blog : Refonte du Code des visas : « il ne faut pas se laisser influencer par les attentats de Paris ». 22.11.2015. en [FR]

[8] idem

Compte AEDH