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New EU visa rules: Questions and Answers

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New EU rules on short-stay visas apply worldwide from 2 February 2020. They make it easier for legitimate travellers to apply for a visa to come to Europe, facilitating tourism, trade and business, while providing more resources for countering irregular migration risks and threats to internal security.

Which non-EU countries do the new rules apply to?

The changes apply to travellers from all countries which need visas to travel to the EU. Currently, citizens from 105 non-EU countries or entities are required to have a visa (full list available online). Nothing changes for countries benefitting from visa-free travel to the EU because the new rules do not apply to their citizens.

Which destination countries are covered by the update?

The rules cover short-stay visas for the 22 EU countries that are part of the Schengen area (Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden), as well as for four associated countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.A uniform short-stay visa issued by one of these countries covers travel throughout the 26 Schengen countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.

Why change the EU visa rules now?

The European Parliament and the Council agreed the changes in June 2019.

The tourism and travel industry plays a key role in the European economy. EU Member States are among the world’s leading tourist destinations – the number of visa applications processed has increased considerably over the last 9 years and continues to expand. Since 2009, the number of applications for EU visas has risen by 57% – from 10.2 million to over 16 million in 2018. At the same time, visa application procedures have not changed since 2010 and there was a need to make them less cumbersome, while maintaining the same level of security and control.

Visa fees have not been adapted since 2006 and a €60 fee no longer covers the costs of processing applications, in particular due to inflation.

Finally, by creating a link between visa procedures and cooperation on readmission, the revision gives the EU new tools for a dialogue with partner countries about migration. This possibility is part of the EU’s ongoing efforts in favour of a comprehensive and effective migration policy.

What are the main benefits for travellers?

With the new rules, travellers now benefit from a simpler and more user-friendly visa application procedure:

Visa applications can be submitted up to 6 months before the intended travel (9 months for seafarers), instead of 3 months previously, allowing travellers to better plan their trips;

Multiple-entry visas with long validity (from 1 to 5 years) are now easier to obtain, saving frequent travellers time and money, as they will have to apply for a new visa less often;

In most cases, an application can be submitted directly in the traveller’s country of residence, and where possible filled in and signed electronically (only hard copies were accepted until now), which will also save travellers time, money and hassle.

What are the new rules for issuing multiple-entry visas?

Frequent travellers with a positive visa history are to be granted multiple-entry visa with a gradually increasing validity period from 1 year to a maximum of 5 years.

Travellers’ fulfilment of entry conditions will be thoroughly and repeatedly verified in all cases, and only persons with a positive visa track record will be issued multiple-entry visas with a long validity.

Multiple-entry visas allow the holder to travel repeatedly to the EU during the period of validity of the visa.

How long will it take for the visa application to be processed?

The maximum time for visa applications to be processed remains unchanged at 15 days. The processing time may be longer only in individual cases, for instance where further scrutiny of the application is needed, and take up to maximum 45 days.

With which consulate should applicants lodge their visa application?

The rules remain the same. Applicants must lodge their application at the consulate of the country they intend to visit. Applicants planning to visit several Schengen states must apply at the consulate of the country where they will spend the longest period. Applicants planning on visiting several Schengen states for equal lengths of stay must apply at the consulate of the country whose external borders they will cross first when entering the Schengen area.In case the Schengen state of destination has no consulate in the country where the applicant resides, the applicant should check whether it is represented by another consulate.

Do visa applicants have to submit their application in person at a consulate?

In most cases, visa applications can be submitted in the applicant’s country of residence (either at a consulate or at the premises of an external service provider) and, where possible, the application form can be filled in and signed electronically. Under the new rules, applicants have to appear in person only when fingerprints are to be collected (i.e. every 59 months).

Can the application be submitted via an external service provider?

Most Member States use external service providers to collect visa applications and supporting documents. The large network of “visa application centres” means that applicants do not usually have to travel too far to lodge their application. Member States remain fully responsible for processing and deciding on visa applications.

What are the requirements for applying for a short stay visa?

The rules have not changed. In order to apply for a short stay visa to the EU, applicants must present:

A filled in and signed visa application form;

A passport issued in the last 10 years and valid for at least 3 months after the end of the stay;

An identity photograph;

Proof of possession of adequate and valid travel medical insurance;

Supporting documents relating to the purpose of the stay, evidence of means of support during the stay and accommodation.

Applicants must also pay the visa fee and, where applicable, have their fingerprints collected.

Do visa applicants need a travel medical insurance when travelling to the EU?

Yes, visa applicants must present a valid travel medical insurance when applying for a visa, as it was already the case under the previous rules.

What is the amount of the visa fee? What will the increased visa fee be used for?

The visa fee increases from €60 to €80. This increase is the first one since 2006 and it brings the fee in line with the level where it would be today if it had been aligned to the general EU-wide inflation rate since 2006.

The €60 fee no longer adequately covered the administrative costs (such as staffing, premises and equipment) for offering adequate service to the constantly growing numbers of applications. The increase in the visa fee will ensure there are sufficient financial resources to maintain a wide consular coverage worldwide and reinforce consular staff, speed up the application process and provide better quality service for travellers, upgrade IT equipment and software, and improve the capacity to detect potential security and irregular migration risks.

Importantly, for regular travellers, the fee increase will be partly offset by the new rules on long-validity visas: these travellers may actually save money under the new provisions, since they have to apply for visas less often.

Will the visa fee also increase for countries benefiting from lower fees under Visa Facilitation Agreements?

No. The increase of the general visa fee has no impact on the lower visa fee (€35) set in the Visa Facilitation Agreements concluded between the EU and a number of third countries, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.

How does the revised visa fee compare to the fees charged by other countries?

By international standards, the €80 visa fee remains low. As a comparison, applying for a tourist visa to the United States costs €143 and €126 for China. Travellers to Australia have to pay €90 for their visa, while those going to New Zealand will be charged €146. A visa to Canada costs €68, to India €95, and to the UK €112 (January 2020).

Are there any visa fee waivers and reductions?

Yes, the visa fee is still waived for children below 6 years old, as was already the case under the previous rules. The visa fee for minors between the age of 6 and 12 years remains half of the general fee, and thus increases by €5 (to €40). In addition, it is now possible for Member States to waive the visa fee for minors between the age of 6 and 18 years.

How will the cooperation on readmission be linked to EU visa policy?

Over the past years, the EU has been stepping up activities to support Member States in returning people who have no right to stay in Europe. Even though readmission of own nationals is an obligation under international law, Member States have experienced difficulties in returning irregular migrants.

The revised visa rules introduce a new mechanism linking visa policy and cooperation on readmission. This will bring an important element into the EU’s discussions with partner countries.

Under the new rules, the Commission will conduct a regular assessment of how non-EU countries cooperate on readmission, taking into account indicators such as:

The number of return decisions issued to citizens of a given non-EU country;

The number of actual returns as a percentage of the number of return decisions issued;

The number of readmission requests accepted by the non-EU country as a percentage of the number of requests submitted to it; and

The level of practical cooperation in the different stages of the return procedure, including as regards the assistance provided in the identification of persons irregularly staying in the EU and the timely issuance of travel documents.

Member States which encounter substantial and persistent readmission problems with a given non-EU country may also notify the Commission of such a situation. In such cases, the Commission must assess the notification within one month.

On this basis, the Commission, together with Member States, can establish a more restrictive and temporary implementation of certain provisions of the Visa Code for the processing of visa applications from nationals of the country in question, such as the processing time, the length of validity of visas, the level of the visa fee and the fee waivers.

If a third country cooperates sufficiently on readmission, and taking account of the Union’s overall relations with the third country concerned, the Commission may also propose a more generous implementation of certain provisions of the Visa Code (lower visa fee, quicker processing times and multiple-entry visas with longer validity to be agreed upon by Member States in the Council).

Can nationals of non-EU countries which do not cooperate on readmission still apply for and obtain a visa to travel to the EU?

More restrictive implementation of certain procedural rules and the general rules on the issuing of multiple-entry visas will not call into question applicants’ basic right to submit an application for a visa or to be granted a visa.

When the Commission, together with the Member States, decides that the mechanism should be triggered, the restrictive implementation of certain rules will be adapted to the particular situation in each non EU-country. This could have an impact on the processing time, the length of validity of the visa to be issued, the level of the visa fee to be charged and the fee waivers.

Will the new rules affect the UK after the end of the transition period?

No. In 2019, the Visa Regulation was amended to grant UK nationals visa-free travel to the EU after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. This means that UK nationals will remain visa-free when travelling to the EU for short stays, so the revised visa rules will not apply to them.

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Advancing the EU social market economy: adequate minimum wages for workers

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The Commission today proposes an EU Directive to ensure that the workers in the Union are protected by adequate minimum wages allowing for a decent living wherever they work. When set at adequate levels, minimum wages do not only have a positive social impact but also bring wider economic benefits as they reduce wage inequality, help sustain domestic demand and strengthen incentives to work. Adequate minimum wages can also help reduce the gender pay gap, since more women than men earn a minimum wage. The proposal also helps protect employers that pay decent wages to workers by ensuring fair competition.

The current crisis has particularly hit sectors with a higher share of low-wage workers such as cleaning, retail, health and long-term care and residential care. Ensuring a decent living for workers and reducing in-work poverty is not only important during the crisis but also essential for a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.  

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “Today’s proposal for adequate minimum wages is an important signal that also in crisis times, the dignity of work must be sacred. We have seen that for too many people, work no longer pays. Workers should have access to adequate minimum wages and a decent standard of living. What we propose today is a framework for minimum wages, in full respect of national traditions and the freedom of social partners. Improving working and living conditions will not only protect our workers, but also employers that pay decent wages, and create the basis for a fair, inclusive and resilient recovery.”

Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “It is important to ensure that also low wage workers benefit from the economic recovery. With this proposal we want to make sure that workers in the EU earn a decent living wherever they work. Social partners have a crucial role to play in negotiating wages nationally and locally. We support their freedom to negotiate wages autonomously, and where this is not possible, we give a framework to guide Member states in setting minimum wages.”

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said: “Almost 10% of workers in the EU are living in poverty: this has to change. People who have a job should not be struggling to make ends meet. Minimum wages have to play catch up with other wages which have seen growth in recent decades, leaving minimum wages lagging behind. Collective bargaining should be the gold standard across all Member States. Ensuring adequate minimum wages is written in black and white in Principle 6 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which all Member States have endorsed, so we are counting on their continued commitment.”

A framework for minimum wages in full respect of national competences and traditions

Minimum wages exist in all EU Member States.  21 countries have statutory minimum wages and in 6 Member States (Denmark, Italy, Cyprus, Austria, Finland and Sweden) minimum wage protection is provided exclusively by collective agreements. Yet, in the majority of Member States, workers are affected by insufficient adequacy and/or gaps in the coverage of minimum wage protection. In light of this, the proposed Directive creates a framework to improve the adequacy of minimum wages and for access of workers to minimum wage protection in the EU. The Commission’s proposal fully respects the subsidiary principle: it sets a framework for minimum standards, respecting and reflecting Member States’ competences and social partners’ autonomy and contractual freedom in the field of wages. It does not oblige Member States to introduce statutory minimum wages, nor does it set a common minimum wage level.

Countries with high collective bargaining coverage tend to have a lower share of low-wage workers, lower wage inequality and higher minimum wages. Therefore, the Commission proposal aims at promoting collective bargaining on wages in all Member States.

Countries with statutory minimum wages should put in place the conditions for minimum wages to be set at adequate levels. These conditions include clear and stable criteria for minimum wage setting, indicative reference values to guide the assessment of adequacy and regular and timely updates of minimum wages. These Member States are also asked to ensure the proportionate and justified use of minimum wage variations and deductions and the effective involvement of social partners in statutory minimum wage setting and updating.

Finally, the proposal provides for improved enforcement and monitoring of the minimum wage protection established in each country. Compliance and effective enforcement is essential for workers to benefit from actual access to minimum wage protection, and for businesses to be protected against unfair competition. The proposed Directive introduces annual reporting by Member States on its minimum wage protection data to the Commission. 

Background

President von der Leyen promised to present a legal instrument to ensure that the workers in our Union have a fair minimum wage at the start of her mandate and repeated her pledge in her first State of the Union address on 16 September 2020.

The right to adequate minimum wages is in Principle 6 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was jointly proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council on behalf of all Member States, and the European Commission in Gothenburg in November 2017.

Today’s proposal for a Directive is based on Article 153 (1) (b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) on working conditions. It follows a two-stage consultation of social partners carried out in accordance with Article 154 TFEU. The Commission’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for approval. Once adopted, Member States will have two years have to transpose the Directive into national law.

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Commission proposes new ‘Single Window’ to modernise and streamline customs controls

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The European Commission has today proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders, who will be able to submit the information required for import or export of goods only once. The so-called ‘EU Single Window Environment for Customs‘ aims to enhance cooperation and coordination between different authorities, in order to facilitate the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

The Single Window aims to digitalise and streamline processes, so that businesses will ultimately no longer have to submit documents to several authorities through different portals. Today’s proposal is the first concrete deliverable of the recently adopted Action Plan on taking the Customs Union to the next level. It launches an ambitious project to modernise border controls over the coming decade, in order to facilitate trade, improve safety and compliance checks, and reduce the administrative burden for companies.

Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for the Economy, said: “Digitalisation, globalisation and the changing nature of trade present both risks and opportunities when it comes to goods crossing the EU’s borders. To rise to these challenges, customs and other competent authorities must act as one, with a more holistic approach to the many checks and procedures needed for smooth and safe trade. Today’s proposal is the first step towards a fully paperless and integrated customs environment and better cooperation between all authorities at our external borders. I urge all Member States to play their part in making it a true success story.”

Each year, the Customs Union facilitates the trade of more than €3.5 trillion worth of goods. Efficient customs clearance and controls are essential to allow trade to flow smoothly while also protecting EU citizens, businesses and the environment. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the importance of having agile yet robust customs processes, and this will become ever more important as trade volumes keep on increasing and new challenges related to digitalisation and e-commerce, such as new forms of fraud, emerge.

Currently, the formalities required at the EU’s external borders often involve many different authorities in charge of different policy areas, such as health and safety, the environment, agriculture, fisheries, cultural heritage and market surveillance and product compliance. As a result, businesses have to submit information to several different authorities, each with their own portal and procedures. This is cumbersome and time-consuming for traders and reduces the capacity of authorities to act in a joined-up way in combatting risks.

Today’s proposal is the first step in creating a digital framework for enhanced cooperation between all border authorities, through one Single Window. The Single Window will enable businesses and traders to provide data in one single portal in an individual Member State, thereby reducing duplication, time and costs. Customs and other authorities will then be able to collectively use this data, allowing for a fully coordinated approach to goods clearance and a clearer overview at EU level of the goods that are entering or leaving the EU. 

This is an ambitious project that will entail significant investment at both EU and Member State level, in order to be fully implemented over the next decade or so. The Commission will support Member States in this preparation, where possible, including through funding from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, to enable them to reap the full, long-term benefits of the Single Window. 

Background

The EU is the largest trading bloc in the world, accounting for 15% of the world trade. In 2018, almost 343 million customs declarations were handled by more than 2,000 EU customs offices, who collected €25.3 billion in customs duties.

The Single Window is part of the new Customs Union Action Plan, which sets out a series of measures to make EU customs smarter, more innovative and more efficient over the next four years. In her Political Guidelines, President von der Leyen announced plans for an integrated European approach to customs risk management, which supports effective controls by EU Member States. The measures will strengthen the Customs Union and enhance its ability to collect EU revenues and protect the security, health and prosperity of EU citizens and businesses.

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Commission opens infringements against Cyprus and Malta for “selling” EU citizenship

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Today, the European Commission is launching infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta by issuing letters of formal notice regarding their investor citizenship schemes also referred to as “golden passport” schemes.

The Commission considers that the granting by these Member States of their nationality – and thereby EU citizenship – in exchange for a pre-determined payment or investment and without a genuine link with the Member States concerned, is not compatible with the principle of sincere cooperation enshrined in Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union. This also undermines the integrity of the status of EU citizenship provided for in Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Due to the nature of EU citizenship, such schemes have implications for the Union as a whole. When a Member State awards nationality, the person concerned automatically becomes an EU citizen and enjoys all rights linked to this status, such as the right to move, reside and work freely within the EU, or the right to vote in municipal elections as well as elections to the European Parliament. As a consequence, the effects of investor citizenship schemes are neither limited to the Member States operating them, nor are they neutral with regard to other Member States and the EU as a whole.

The Commission considers that the granting of EU citizenship for pre-determined payments or investments without any genuine link with the Member States concerned, undermines the essence of EU citizenship.

Next steps

The Cypriot and Maltese governments have two months to reply to the letters of formal notice. If the replies are not satisfactory, the Commission may issue a Reasoned Opinion in this matter.

Background

Investor citizenship schemes allow a person to acquire a new nationality based on payment or investment alone. These schemes are different to investor residence schemes (or “golden visas”), which allow third-country nationals, subject to certain conditions, to obtain a residence permit to live in an EU country.

The conditions for obtaining and forfeiting national citizenship are regulated by the national law of each Member State, subject to due respect for EU law. As nationality of a Member State is the only precondition for EU citizenship and access to rights conferred by the Treaties, the Commission has been closely monitoring investor schemes granting the nationality of Member States.

The Commission has frequently raised its serious concerns about investor citizenship schemes and certain risks that are inherent in such schemes. As mentioned in the Commission’s report of January 2019, those risks relate in particular to security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption and the Commission has been monitoring wider issues of compliance with EU law raised by investor citizenship and residence schemes. In April 2020, the Commission wrote to the Member States concerned setting out its concerns and asking for further information about the schemes.

In a resolution adopted on 10 July 2020, the European Parliament reiterated its earlier calls on Member States to phase out all existing citizenship by investment (CBI) or residency by investment (RBI) schemes as soon as possible. As stated by President von der Leyen in the State of the Union Address of 16 September 2020, European values are not for sale.

The Commission is also writing again to Bulgaria to highlight its concerns regarding an investor citizenship scheme operated by that Member State and requesting further details. The Bulgarian government has one month to reply to the letter requesting further information, following which the Commission will decide on the next steps.

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