By John Lee.
The European Commission has proposed to the Council to adopt temporary restrictive measures on short-stay visas for visa applicants who are nationals of Iraq, Bangladesh and The Gambia.
Under the revised Visa Code in force since February 2020, the EU's short-stay visa policy is linked to cooperation with partner countries on readmitting their nationals who do not have the right to stay in the EU. The proposals adopted last month aim to improve the 3 countries' cooperation with the Member States on readmission.
Effective return and readmission as well as sustainable reintegration are essential elements of comprehensive, balanced, tailor-made and mutually beneficial migration partnerships with countries outside the EU. Fostering co-operation is an important element of this policy and the EU needs to mobilise all available tools, including development co-operation, trade or visa. Improved and sustained cooperation could also potentially open the path to more favourable visa measures.
Temporary visa measures
According to the Commission's assessment for the year 2019 and taking into account subsequent developments, including steps taken by the Commission to improve such cooperation, the level of cooperation on readmission with Bangladesh, Iraq and The Gambia requires improvement. The proposed measures cover certain procedural aspects for issuing short-stay visas, specifically:
- Suspension of waiver of certain supporting documents for certain categories of applicants (e.g. bona fide travellers);
- Suspension of optional visa fee waiver for holders of diplomatic passports;
- Suspension of the maximum processing time (beyond 15 days);
- Suspension of the mandatory issuance of multiple entry visas with a long validity.
The measures do not apply to visa applicants who are family members of EU citizens or other beneficiaries of free movement in the EU.
The Commission will continue its engagement and work with the partner countries concerned to improve cooperation on readmission as part of its continued overall engagement with these countries.
The Council will examine the Commission's proposals for Implementing Decisions and take a decision on their adoption. The measures will come into force immediately upon adoption.
To maintain a transparent and constructive partnership approach, which encourages rapid progress on readmission, the Commission will continue its engagement with the countries concerned to improve cooperation and overall relations with these countries.
Within 6 months of the measures entering into force, the Commission must report to the European Parliament and to the Council on the progress achieved. The Commission may then propose to repeal or amend these visa measures, taking into account the Union's overall relations with the countries concerned. In particular, in case the current measures are ineffective, the Commission could propose a further measure, namely a gradual increase of the standard visa fee to €120 or a maximum of €160.
Readmission of own nationals is an obligation under international law. Under the revised Visa Code, the Commission annually assesses readmission cooperation with non-EU countries and reports to the Council. Temporary restrictions on certain short-stay may be introduced vis-à-vis non-EU countries whose nationals require visas to travel to the EU, where cooperation on readmission is not yet deemed sufficient.
This process supports wider efforts to put in place effective and comprehensive migration management in the EU under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum and to strengthen the external dimension of migration policy. This includes not only the readmission dimension but also, for example, addressing migrant smuggling, improving the use of EU funding, and fostering legal migration and mobility.
As the initial step of the process set out in the Visa Code to improve readmission cooperation, the Commission adopted on 10 February 2021 its first assessment of how non-EU countries cooperate on readmission. This factual report assessed all stages of the readmission process where assistance of the third countries' authorities is required - from identification of people without the right to stay to the issuance of travel documents and effective return.
On the basis of further assessment and following discussions with the Member States, the Commission and the European External Action Service engaged with partner countries, informing them of the process, the EU's expectations and the possible consequences of failing to improve the situation. The proposals follow the Commission's assessment that the three countries' cooperation with the EU on readmission matters is not sufficient and further action is needed, considering the steps taken so far by the Commission to improve the level of cooperation and taking into account the EU's overall relations with the third countries concerned.
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