Report from the Commission of the European Parliament and the Council: “A Smarter Visa Policy for Economic Growth”

A common visa policy is a fundamental component of the creation of a common area without internal borders. The Schengen acquis on visa policy established in the framework of the Schengen intergovernmental cooperation was incorporated into the institutional and legal framework of the European Union following the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam.

The Visa Code sets out harmonised procedures and conditions for issuing short-stay visas. The Code was a ‘recast’ and consolidation of all legal acts governing the conditions and procedures for issuing short-stay visas and repealed obsolete parts of the ‘Schengen acquis’.

The recast covered the ‘Common Consular Instructions’, as well as parts of the Schengen Convention and 11 ‘Schengen Executive Committee’ Decisions. Additionally, the Joint Action 96/197/JHA of 4 March 1996 on airport transit arrangements was incorporated into the Union legal framework.

Consolidation, and therefore simplification, of the legal framework was one aim of the Visa Code. Another was to facilitate legitimate travel and to tackle irregular immigration through further harmonisation of the way in which local consular missions of the Member States deal with visa applications. The aim of facilitating legitimate travel was to be achieved, inter alia, on the premise that frequent and regular travellers known to consulates should be able to get a visa more easily than unknown, first-time applicants.

The main procedural facilitations concern the issuing of multiple entry visas and lighter requirements for supporting documents. The Visa Code thus allows differentiated treatment of applicants on the basis of their ‘visa track record’. It is also intended to ensure that similar cases are dealt with in a similar way.

The need to facilitate travel to Europe in a secure environment has gained increased political attention since the adoption of the Visa Code. To this end, the EU is currently engaged in Visa Liberalisation Dialogues with a number of partner countries and more such dialogues are likely to follow in the coming years.

In addition, the EU has concluded nine Visa Facilitation Agreements (VFAs) with partner countries. These can be considered as a first step towards visa liberalisation and show the EU’s commitment to promote mobility and to facilitate travel to Europe for a broader range of third country nationals. It is in the EU’s interests to be ‘open’ to visitors, as travellers contribute to economic growth. Furthermore, contacts between peoples and cultures promote mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue.

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