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 Post subject: Schengen Visa
Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 29 Jan 2010 15:02 
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Schengen Visa

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The name "Schengen" originates from a small town in Luxembourg where 7 European Union member states signed a treaty on the 26 March 1995. The Schengen Agreement abolishes internal borders, checkpoints and controls, enabling passport-free movement between a large number of European countries.

The Schengen Area currently consists of twenty-five states, all but three of which are members of the European Union (EU). Two of the non-EU members, Iceland and Norway, are part of the Nordic Passport Union and are officially classified as states associated with the Schengen activities of the EU.

The third, Switzerland was subsequently allowed to participate in the same manner in 2008, becoming the Schengen Area's newest member. De facto, the Schengen Area also includes several microstates that maintain open or semi-open borders with Schengen countries. Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino are not part of the Schengen Agreement, but they no longer have checks at their borders.

Two EU members—Ireland and the United Kingdom—negotiated opt-outs from Schengen and continue to operate systematic border controls between themselves and other EU member states.

Before fully implementing the Schengen rules, each state needs to have its preparedness assessed in four areas: air borders, visas, police cooperation, and personal data protection. This evaluation process involves a questionnaire and visits by EU experts to selected institutions and workplaces in the country under assessment.

Regulation of internal borders

Before the implementation of the Schengen Agreement, most borders in Western Europe were patrolled and a vast network of border posts existed around the continent, to check the identity and entitlement of people wishing to travel from one country to another.

Since the implementation of the Schengen rules, border posts have been closed (and often entirely removed) between participating countries. The Schengen Borders Code requires participating states to remove all obstacles to free traffic flow at internal borders. Thus, road, rail and air passengers no longer have their identity checked by border guards when crossing borders, although security controls by carriers are still permissible.

A Schengen state is permitted to reinstate border controls for a short period where there is a serious threat to that state's "public policy or internal security." When such risk arise out of foreseeable events, the state in question must notify the European Commission in advance and consult with other Schengen states. In April 2010 Malta introduced temporary checks due to Pope Benedict XVI's visit.

When travelling by air between Schengen countries or within a single Schengen country, some airlines request identification (usually a passport or a national ID card) at the airport check-in counters or when boarding. However, this practice is not a form of an official border control, but is used to establish the identity of the passengers.

According to the Schengen rules, hotels and other types of commercial accommodation must register all foreign citizens, including citizens of other Schengen states, by requiring the completion of a registration form by their own hand. This does not apply to accompanying spouses and minor children or members of travel groups. In addition, a valid identification document has to be produced to the hotel manager or staff. The Schengen rules do not require any other procedures; thus, the Schengen states are free to regulate further details on the content of the registration forms, and identity documents which are to be produced, and may also require the persons exempted from registration by Schengen laws to be registered. Enforcement of these rules varies by country.

The European Union constitutes a customs union and a Value Added Tax area. The effect of these provisions is to prohibit systematic tax, customs controls or any administrative processing of goods at borders between EU member states. In consequence the borders between EU, Schengen states have become largely invisible. However not all Schengen states or all of the territory of Schengen states are part of the customs union or VAT area, so some controls on goods entering or leaving the customs union and/or VAT area are inevitable. In order to avoid customs controls becoming the new passport controls on internal Schengen borders, the Schengen Borders Code prohibits systematic customs and tax controls

Regulation of external borders

Schengen regulations require member countries to apply strict checks on travellers entering or exiting the area. These checks are co-ordinated by the European Union's Frontex agency, and subject to common rules. The details of border controls, surveillance and the conditions under which permission to enter into the Schengen Area may be granted are exhaustively detailed in the Schengen Borders Code.

All persons crossing external borders—inbound or outbound—have to be subject to at least a minimum check, although travellers who do not enjoy the Community right of free movement must, in general, be subject to a thorough check.

A minimum check consists of a "rapid" and "straightforward" verification of a traveller's travel documents, where appropriate by using technical devices and by consulting databases on lost and stolen documents, to ensure that they are valid and have not been forged. On a strictly "non-systematic basis", border guards are allowed to consult national and European databases (e.g. the Schengen Information System) to see if a person who can benefit from the Community right of free movement poses a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to the internal security, public policy, international relations of the Member States or a threat to public health.

A thorough check involves, in addition to the procedures of a minimum check, an examination of entry and exit stamps in the travel document of the third-country national to verify that the person has not already exceeded the maximum duration of authorised stay in the Schengen Area, verification of the length and purpose of stay in the Schengen Area (if necessary looking at supporting documents in the traveller's possession), a check that the traveller has the appropriate visa or residence permit if required and a systematic consultation of national and European databases (e.g. SIS) to ensure that no alert has been issued for the traveller (e.g. an arrest warrant had been issued by a EU or Schengen state).

External border controls are located at roads crossing a border, at airports, at seaports and on board trains. Usually, there is no fence along the land border, but there are exceptions like the Ceuta border fence. However, surveillance camera systems, some equipped with infrared technology, are located at some more critical spots, for example at the border between Slovakia and the Ukraine, where at some points there is a camera every 186 metres (203 yards). Along the southern coast of the Schengen countries, coast guards make a substantial effort to prevent private boats from entering without permission.

The Schengen rules require that all passenger carriers across the Schengen external border must check, before boarding, if the passenger has the travel document and visa required for entry. This is to prevent persons from applying for asylum at the passport control after landing within the Schengen Area.

Short-stay and transit visas

The rules applicable to short-term entry visas into the Schengen Area are set out in EU regulations which contain two lists: a list of the nationalities (or classes of travel document holder) which require a visa for a short-term stay (the Annex I list) and a list which do not (the Annex II list).

Being listed in the visa-free list will sometimes but not always exempt the listed nationality or class from the requirement to obtain a work permit if they wish to take up employment or self-employed activity during their stay; business trips are not normally considered employment in this sense. Schengen states may establish, with respect to entries and stays in their own territory, additional visa requirements or waivers for persons holding diplomatic, official, or other special passports.

The uniform visa—or Schengen visa—is granted in the form of a sticker affixed by a Member State onto a passport, travel document or another valid document which entitles the holder to cross the border.

Short stay and transit visas are currently granted in the following categories:

  • An airport-transit visa entitles the holder to pass through the international transit area of an airport in the Schengen Area. The requirement to hold such a visa is an exception to the general rule that nationals who require a visa to enter the Schengen Area do not require a visa to complete a stop-over in an airport in the Schengen Area.

  • A uniform visa entitles the holder to enter and remain in the Schengen Area for a specified period. Uniform visas are issued for reasons other than immigration, such as tourism, business or transit, and may be issued for either single or multiple entry. The maximum validity of the latter is normally a year but a greater period of up to five years is allowable in exceptional cases. The maximum stay allowable is three months in any half year. When issued for transit the length of the stay will correspond to the length the transit should take.

  • Facilitated Transit Document (FTD) and a Facilitated Rail Transit Document (FRTD) are documents issued for transit between the Russian Federation and its western exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast. A FTD is valid for up to three years for transits which do not exceed 24 hours. A FRTD is valid for up to three months for transits which not exceed six hours.

Entry conditions for third-country nationals

A Schengen visa or a visa exemption does not, in and of itself, entitle a traveller to enter the Schengen Area. The Schengen Borders Code lists requirements which third-country nationals must meet to be allowed into the Schengen Area. For this purpose, a third-country national is a person who does not enjoy the Community right of free movement (i.e. a person who is not an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, or a family member of such a person who is in possession of a residence permit with the indication "family member of an EU citizen" or "family member of an EEA or CH citizen").

The requirements for entry are as follows:

  • The third-country national is in possession of a valid travel document or documents authorising them to cross the border; the acceptance of travel documents for this purpose remains within the domain of the member states;
  • The traveller either possesses a valid visa (if required) or a valid residence permit;
  • The traveller can justify the purpose and conditions of the intended stay and has sufficient means of subsistence, both for the duration of the intended stay and for the return to his or her country of origin or transit to a third country into which the traveller is certain to be admitted, or is in a position to acquire such means lawfully;
  • The Schengen Information System does not contain an alert for refusal of entry concerning the traveller, and
  • The traveller is not considered to be a threat to public policy, internal security, public health or the international relations of any of the Schengen states.

Border guards are required to stamp the travel documents of third-country nationals when they cross external borders at all times, even in extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances, including when checks are relaxed. However, nationals of Andorra, Monaco and San Marino are exempt from this requirement, as are heads of state, whose visit what announced through diplomatic channels, and those enjoying the benefit of a local border traffic regime. Certain exemptions also apply to the crews of ships and aircraft.

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 Post subject: Re: Schengen Visa
Post Number:#2  PostPosted: 26 Apr 2010 15:24 
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EU harmonises Schengen visa rules


A new visa code has come into force in most EU member states, speeding up and standardising visa procedures for travellers to Europe.

The new rules apply to the 25 countries in the Schengen zone, where people can cross borders without passport checks.

Schengen embraces 22 EU countries and three non-EU nations - Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The UK and Irish Republic are among those outside.

Getting a Schengen visa will be "faster and fairer", the EU Commission says.

The code applies to third-country nationals seeking a short-stay visa for travel within the zone - that is, valid for 90 days. Visas for long stays - beyond 90 days - remain under national jurisdiction.

The European Commission says the visa code is now being applied by Schengen countries' consulates worldwide.

Reducing queues

The code sets a maximum deadline of two weeks for states to interview a visa applicant. Then officials have to decide within 15 days whether or not to grant a visa.

Currently officials do not have to explain a refusal to grant a visa, but from 5 April next year they will have to give a reason. Disappointed applicants will have a right of appeal.

The code also introduces a reduced visa fee of 35 euros (£31; $47) for children aged between six and 12. The normal fee is 60 euros.

Citizens of countries that have visa facilitation accords with the EU will also pay only 35 euros.

The new code "will ensure that the application of EU visa law is fully harmonised", EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said.

EU data shows that in 2008 the Schengen zone issued nearly 10.4 million visas. The largest country totals were: Germany (1.77m); France (1.74m); Italy (1.2m); Spain (802,032) and Finland (792,277).

In December the Schengen countries granted visa-free travel for citizens of three Balkan countries - Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. All three are seeking to join the EU.

The five EU countries that remain outside Schengen are: the UK, Irish Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus.

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 Post subject: Re: Schengen Visa
Post Number:#3  PostPosted: 27 Apr 2010 07:29 
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Information from the French Consulate in London
The easiest one to apply for a Schegen Visa

Family members of an European Union citizen
(excepting French Nationals)


Married spouses of EU nationals are exempted from obtaining a Schengen visa to travel to France if they hold:

1. A valid passport;

2. A valid UK residence permit - issued by the Home Office - with the endorsement "family member of EEA national" (art 10 of the European council/parliament directive 2004/38 ce); and if they are joining or travelling with the EU national.

However if they do not satisfy the above conditions, they need to apply for a visa to travel to France (for instance if their UK residency does not state those exact words/ their spouse is not travelling).

Caution:

This exemption only applies to married spouses of EU Nationals, i.e. not to parents, children, unmarried partners, civil partners;

Family members of French Nationals are not included in this legislation and still require visas to travel to France.

The visa will be free of charge, on presentation of the appropriate evidence to*:

1. Children under the age of 6 applying for a short stay Schengen visa;
2. French teachers;
3. Researchers travelling to France in order to conduct scientific researches;
4. Teachers and children travelling on a school trip;
5. Spouses of French Nationals;
6. Spouses of European Union citizens;
7. Dependant children, under the age of 21, of European Union citizens, all but French nationals;
8. Dependant parents of European Union citizens, all but French nationals; holders of diplomatic, service and official passports.

* The decision not to charge the visa application fees will be made by the Visa Officer on the day you apply.

LATEST INFORMATION FROM THE FRENCH CONSULATE


CHANGES TO THE LEGISLATION: Passport issue date must be less than 10 years

Your passport must be less than 10 years old when you apply for a Schengen visa.

NEW: People travelling to several Schengen States

If you are planning to visit various Schengen States, please fill in a travel plan and attach it to your application (download the travel plan)

NEW: Holders of a year-long Schengen visa

Visa nationals who have been granted year-long Schengen visas (with the written endorsement “visa de circulation”) in the last 5 years by the French Consulate, London, may use the postal service regardless of their county of residence . They may apply for the renewal of their visa up to two months prior to the expiry date of their current visa. Learn more …

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Marriage Certificate

Note that the French consulate requests the copy of the marriage certificate from the Register Office for all marriages (including religious) celebrated in the UK.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Photocopies of your passport

Please ensure you provide photocopies of your passport (ID, UK stamp and previous Schengen visas pages) when you lodge a visa application. Failing to do so will most probably lead to the refusal of your application.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Envelope compulsory

Visa Nationals, who must expect a delay of a few weeks for the processing of their applications, click here, must include a self-addressed stamped envelope with their visa applications:

A self-addressed pre-paid special delivery envelope for the return of your passport should you be happy to leave your passport at the French Consulate whilst your application is being processed (i.e. up to 4 weeks). Note that should you request your passport back in the meantime, your visa application will be cancelled. The French Consulate will not be held responsible for the loss of your travel arrangement should the consultation takes longer than expected/ the loss or damage of documents returned by post.

Or a self-addressed 1st class stamped envelope should you prefer to keep your passport with you whilst your application is being processed.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Incomplete applications:

Visa applications lodged without all requested supporting documents and copies are refused.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Hotel bookings

As from the 27th of April 2009, people travelling to France for tourism will have to provide a reservation confirmation issued directly by the hotel clearly stating the visa national’s full names, the dates of check-in and out, the hotel address and contact details. Bookings made via reservation centres or travel agencies will no longer be accepted. To ensure that visa nationals comply with the legislation in regards to the reality of stay in France, controls will be made prior and after the visa has been granted.

We understand tour operating companies are not always able to provide the contracted hotels with a rooming list at the time of the customer visa application process. Therefore we recommend that the tour operators send a copy of the client booking confirmation (fax, email or letter) to the hotel at the time of the booking. The hotel will then be able to confirm if a customer is booked in at the time of the checks made by the Consulate.

French Consulate site - London

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 Post subject: Re: Schengen Visa
Post Number:#4  PostPosted: 05 May 2011 07:46 
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Times_to_FSU: Too many to remember
EU: farewell to open borders?

Cyprus Mail By Justyna Pawlak Published on May 5, 2011

THE European Union executive could allow governments to restore border controls temporarily in Europe’s free Schengen travel zone under plans presented yesterday in response to demands for more national powers over immigration.

The announcement follows calls by France and other EU states to keep migrants fleeing turmoil in North Africa from spreading through the EU, and reflects growing divisions in the bloc over how to tackle migration.

Fuelling a row over the matter are demands by Italy that other EU governments should help it to cope with thousands of migrants who have arrived on its shores this year. Such calls have raised alarm elsewhere in Europe, as politicians fret about appearing too lenient while voters’ hostility to newcomers is growing.

EU home affairs chief Cecilia Malmstrom said restoring internal borders to deal with exceptional circumstances could be one way of addressing sudden inflows of immigrants.
“It may be necessary ... (when) a part of the external borders comes under heavy unexpected pressure,” she said in a statement.

The Schengen zone incorporates 25 European countries: 22 EU members plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, where free movement of people is guaranteed.

Immigration checks are carried out on the area's external borders under identical rules and procedures for entry; visas are harmonised.

There are no routine checks at internal frontiers, meaning travellers can, for example, drive 3,000 km from Portugal to Poland without encountering a border guard.

Border controls remain in place between the Schengen zone and EU members Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania until other EU governments agree to scrap the measures. Romania and Bulgaria had hoped to join in March but France and Germany disagreed because of concerns over corruption.

EU members Britain and Ireland have chosen not to join the zone.

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 Post subject: Re: Schengen Visa
Post Number:#5  PostPosted: 28 Jul 2011 22:37 
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Times_to_FSU: Too many to remember
Britain, Ireland and Schengen:
Time for a smarter bargain on visas

By Michael Emerson
    
  • Given Britain’s desire to maintain its own border controls, it will not join the EU’s passport-free ‘Schengen’ area in the foreseeable future. Ireland also has to stay out because it shares a common travel area with the UK.

  • But there is now mounting evidence that this situation hurts tourism and businesses in
    Britain and Ireland. Non-European travellers can move freely between Schengen countries
    with a single visa, and many skip the further hassle of getting visas to visit Britain or Ireland.

  • Already the Schengen area has an agreement to facilitate group tourism from China, which is growing fast, and from which the UK and Ireland are excluded.

  • This problem could be overcome if Britain, Ireland and the Schengen countries agreed on ‘mutual recognition’ of the visas they issue, without the UK or Ireland having to scrap their border controls.



For the present UK government, full accession to the Schengen area, a passport-free travel area covering most of Europe, is a red line that it will not cross. Ireland shares a common travel area and land border with the UK and is also bound by this decision.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK, along with Ireland, is suffering serious economic and reputational costs as a result of its separate visa and border management policies.

Britain and Ireland already participate in parts of the Schengen system relating to police co-operation. This paper argues that a fuller co-operation agreement with Schengen could cut the costs of having separate visa regimes for the two non-members.

The idea would be for Britain and Ireland to enter into mutual recognition agreements on visa policy with Schengen countries, without suppression of their port or airport border controls.


A case of simple economics for Britain and Ireland

For many people, the cost and hassle of obtaining visas for business purposes or to go on holiday is a deterrent. One of the achievements of the EU internal market, with free movement of goods, services, capital and people, is that visitors from the rest of the world can view the Union as a single destination. Asian, Russian and other visa-required tourists and businessmen coming to ‘Europe’ will first of all wish to get a Schengen visa. With this one document, they have access to 25 countries, around 86 per cent of the EU’s population, and equivalent percentages of Europe’s main tourist attractions.

How many of these visitors will also apply for a British or Irish visa? And how many of them will say: “it is enough hassle to get one visa, to get a second one at the same time for adding one sixth more attractions is not worth the trouble, let’s skip it”?

Schengen started in 1985 with just six countries. The UK opted out of the initiative, having much less interest in scrapping border controls because of its island geography. It is above all the huge streams of motorway traffic across continental European frontiers that are the concern of individuals and commercial truck drivers. For them time-consuming frontier stops are something they really want to do without.

By contrast, the border controls currently in place for Eurostar train passengers, or cross-channel ferry boat travellers are of trivial concern. Currently, for example, the Eurostar traveller from Brussels passes British border controls at the Brussels Midi station at the same time and place as the Belgian controls and the time-consuming security checks. Similarly, the driver of a car taking the cross-channel ferry boat has to check in long in advance of arriving at port. And with airport security checks now so onerous and timeconsuming, the addition or abolition of passport controls in airports is a minor matter.

If Britain and Ireland retain these passport controls at their ports and airports for security reasons, this is not a radical inconvenience for the traveller. However, the requirement for overseas visitors to get a second visa is a serious disadvantage. Put yourself in the position of the visitor to Europe: planning foreign trips is a complicated affair, with applications having to be co-ordinated with hotel bookings and flight schedules. Many people want flexibility. But to get a visa the passport has to be surrendered for a sometimes uncertain number of days, and if one has to get a second visa (for the UK) after the first one (for Schengen) the hassle is multiplied. So the rationale for the
would-be tourist becomes obvious: get one visa for Schengen and you get access to a far greater range of destinations than the UK or Ireland.

The tendency for visitors to favour Schengen and skip Britain and Ireland is reflected in official policies. To take one example that is of increasing economic significance: already in March 2004, the European Community, on behalf of the Schengen states, made a special agreement with the Chinese national tourism agency to facilitate group tourism across the Schengen area. Britain and Ireland are excluded from this.

In addition, it costs a tourist more to obtain a British visa than it does to obtain a Schengen visa. The standard British short-term (3-month) visa costs £76 (S87 at the current exchange rate), whereas the standard short-term Schengen visa costs S60. In addition, Schengen-area countries have begun visa facilitation agreements with some important countries, for example reducing the cost of visas for Russia and other European neighbouring countries to S35. For longer-term visas, the price differences are even starker, with the UK charging £265 for a two-year multi-entry visa, £486 for five years, and £702 for ten years. France charges S99 for long-term visas.

As regards administrative procedures the UK Border Agency (UKBA) – responsible for issuing visas to Britain – has reduced its services in small countries. Passports and visa applications have to be sent from there to consulates in larger neighbours. To take one example, the British consulate in Brussels no longer issues visas, so non-EU nationals in Belgium have to have their passports sent by courier to Paris and back, which increases time delays.

The UKBA has also taken steps to automate visa procedures, requiring visa applicants to fill out long, complex online questionnaires before admitting potential tourists to a UK consulate for a meeting.

Actual trends

The available data on the total number of visas issues by the UK and Schengen states seems to confirm the implications of these observations. While the number of UK visas issued has remained approximately stable at around 2 million per year over the last five years,the number of Schengen visas has risen significantly,from around eight to 12 million per year. This discrepancy suggests that while the global market for tourism and business travel is significantly expanding, the UK is missing out on this.

International branding of Britain

The website of the British Foreign Office gives prominence to the following extracts from speeches of William Hague, the foreign minister:

“We are a world-class destination for international business, we are a global hub for creativity and innovation, a centre of the world’s financial services industry and a leading champion of free trade and economic liberalism.”

The aspirations contained in such language is laudable. But British visa policy as just described undermines the credibility of this image. International branding of the state is nowadays an important instrument among the many elements that make up an economy’s attractiveness for trade, investment and tourism, and thus of its competitiveness. The world’s media are packed with advertisements for branding countries as ‘Incredible India’, Surprising Singapore’ or ‘Malaysia, truly Asia’. But the key to successful branding is consistency and credibility behind the headlines. Britain’s rigid position on standing aloof from the Schengen area is an inconsistency that risks undermining its global branding effort.

The Irish response

Ireland is locked into a common travel area with the UK, partly because of the undesirability of physical border checks between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The removal of the British military from the border region after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 has been an important feature of the peace settlement. It is of great political significance to both parties that this achievement be sustained. This is the main reason why Ireland joined with the UK in not acceding to the Schengen area. While there are no controls at this border, the UK and Ireland are not a common visa area, so that the non-EU visitor to Northern Ireland who has a UK visa is not legally entitled to extend his trip to Dublin, and vice versa. He can travel from Belfast to Dublin without hindrance, but if caught out he would have done something illegal, which most tourists do not want to do.

Ireland judged the economic costs, especially for its tourist industry, to have become so significant that on 11th May 2011 decided unilaterally to waive the need for an Irish visa for visitors holding a UK visa. Presumably, the Irish government wanted to act decisively and fast, without getting into a bilateral negotiation with the UK which might at best have taken time and at worst failed to reach agreement. The government in its press release announcing these measures stated: “Tourist bodies report that this duplication of administrative paperwork [of getting two visas] acts as a significant disincentive to short stay visitors and undermines the drive to market Ireland as an ‘add-on’ destination.” This visa waiver applies to a list of countries including Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the Gulf Arab states, India and China, all major sources of potential tourism to Europe. If just this ‘UK add-on’ tourist market is significant, how much more so would that of the entire Schengen area be? In Switzerland, for instance, the need to avoid hurting the local tourist industry with a second visa requirement for visitors on a wider European trip was one of the main arguments for joining Schengen.

What about the differences in the UK and Schengen visa lists?

The lists of countries from which the UK and Schengen require a visa are very similar. The British visa-free list includes 26 states or territories for which Schengen requires visas. However, almost all of the 26 are small islands or former colonies of the UK, and this is hardly a problem. The Schengen area is visa-free for a few states for which the UK requires visas, notably three Latin American states (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador), and closer to home the Western Balkan states which are now visa-free for Schengen but not for the UK (except Croatia).

There are two possible solutions here: either (a) harmonisation of the lists which could be a time-consuming and politically difficult matter, or (b) adopt the rule that each party recognises each other’s visas. This would mean that nationals of the many small island territories which are visa-free for the UK would still have to get a visa to visit the Schengen area. However, their number is likely to be small. If there is no political will to move to harmonisation, then the latter seems the best solution.

The UK’s refusal to extend the same visa-free advantages to the Western Balkan countries as Schengen can be criticised as taking a free ride off the rest of the EU. Britain is as keen as any member-state to foster the 3Europeanisation of the Balkans, and visa-free travel is a major instrument to this end, but here the UK lets the rest of the EU do all the heavy lifting. Italy, Slovenia and Austria are, in any case, in the front line for unauthorised immigration and criminality from the Balkans. Thus the UK opts out of a key responsibility in relation to the stabilistation of the post-Yugoslav states, for which freedom of movement with the EU is one of the most significant instruments of influence.

The UK’s and Ireland’s partial participation in Schengen

The UK and Ireland have since 2000 been taking part in some provisions of the Schengen system. A decision by the EU sets this out in legal detail, identifying the relevant articles in the Schengen Convention of 1985. Readers of this decision will have considerable difficulty in understanding what the dense set of numbered cross–references with the Schengen Convention actually mean. EU officials clarify that the decision admits the UK to a set of provisions relating to co-operation over criminal matters, and includes partial access to the Schengen Information System (SIS). The SIS is a huge database of third country nationals for whom there has been some reason to record their identity, and for whom a Schengen state has issued an ‘alert’. These alerts may concern either criminal matters or non-criminal matters relating to a visa application. The UK and Ireland have access to the SIS on criminal matters, but not on visa matters. Both countries can consult these SIS entries where criminal matters are involved, but they cannot enter data on individuals from their own databases.

This partial participation in Schengen is thus quite limited, but provides a basis upon which a fuller cooperation might be devised without necessitating full participation

Security concerns

What risks, if any, would a mutual recognition agreement between the UK/Ireland and the Schengen area pose with regard to illegal immigration, terrorism and cross-border crime? Is the Schengen visa system leaky or lax, at least at the weakest points in the system?

Illegal immigrants are not Schengen visa holders, unless they obtain one legally and then overstay the time limit. They are by definition people who enter the EU illegally, either by boat across the Mediterranean, or crossing the land border between Greece and Turkey. The UK and Ireland would retain the power to deny entry to such people (including those who have overstayed their visas), who might make their way through Europe to the Channel ports or try to enter by air. Airlines have in any case the duty to check on visas before admitting passengers. As regards the need to tackle cross-border crime, Britain and Ireland are already signed up to the relevant parts of the Schengen agreement that are designed to deal with this issue.

Norway and Switzerland are two countries with the highest standards of public administration. Have they experienced problems from receiving Schengen-visa visitors who in their judgement should not have been granted visas? Officials from both of these countries who deal with such matters say that while some problems have inevitably occurred with visas issued by other Schengen members, such incidents are relatively rare and manageable.

What about asylum seekers who enter with a Schengen visa and then request asylum?

Most asylum seekers do not apply for visas, of course. But if a visa holder entered the UK from continental Europe and sought asylum he would be returned to the country of first entry in the Schengen area (the standard EU procedure for the hearing of asylum claims, according to the Dublin Convention of 1990, revised in 2003).

The crises in North Africa have led to the increasing number of boat people reaching Italy in particular. France reacted by partially reintroducing border controls and EU leaders demanded that the Commission draft new rules allowing for emergency reintroduction of border controls in the Schengen area. These steps have no direct implications on the idea of mutual recognition of visas between Britain and the Schengen area. If anything, they bring the two into more convergent positions. The UK wants to keep control of its borders, which our proposal supports. Furthermore, the Schengen countries are in the process of tightening up the basic rules under which border controls in the common travel area operate.

Hence the risks to British and Irish security from entering into a mutual recognition agreement on visas with the Schengen area are minimal.

Conclusions and recommendation

The damage being done by the UK’s present visa policies to its position as a ‘global hub’ seems substantial. Relative to Schengen, Britain seems to be losing out in the growing international tourism and travel market. The UK and Ireland should together submit a request to make mutual recognition agreements with the Schengen members for each other’s short-term visas. Mutual recognition is a tried and tested mechanism in EU internal market law and policy. The UK and Ireland would retain port and airport border controls as now, just as Schengen countries would retain border controls from travellers coming from these two countries.

Differences in visa exemption lists should not impede this. Someone from a visa-exempt country of one party, wishing to travel from there to a country requiring a visa, would still have to get a visa. Differences in visa costs should be eliminated, with the UK and Ireland to align themselves with Schengen charges for ordinary as well as ‘facilitated’ visas made available only to selected groups such as officials or business people.

In May 2011, Ireland unilaterally decided to recognise UK visas out of concern for its tourism sector: this is an example of the far more important action that is recommended here to both the UK and Ireland in relation to Schengen. Similar action for long-term visas could also be considered, but would not be the priority for the purpose of minimising economic losses, although the UK’s charges for long-term visas are extraordinarily high.

The security risks from this move would seem to be slight, given that illegal immigrants do not enter the Schengen area with valid visas, and the UK and Ireland participate in any case in Schengen co-operation on matters of criminality.

Michael Emerson is an Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels - July 2011

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