Visa facilitation and readmission agreements between the European Commission and three Balkan countries -Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro- was initialized last month.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has also concluded the negotiations on such agreements in Brussels, and Serbia is in the final stages of their negotiations.
The overall aim of the agreements is to make it easier for citizens of Western Balkan countries, in particular those who travel most, to acquire visas for the EU (does not apply to UK and Ireland, which do not participate in the Schengen cooperation), whilst simultaneously having clear rules on combating illegal immigration.
The initialed drafts of the agreements ensure to maintain the visa handling fee of 35 euros instead of 60 euros for all Western Balkan citizens, and a total exemption from the visa fee for certain categories of applicants.
Furthermore, for certain categories of persons (e.g. businessmen, students and journalists), the necessary documents requested for supporting a visa application are simplified.
For certain categories of frequent travelers the issuing of multi-entry visas with long periods of validity is provided. Finally, the holders of diplomatic passports are exempt from the visa obligation.
The initialed drafts on readmission set out clear obligations and procedures for the authorities of both the Western Balkan countries and EU member states as to when and how to take back people who are illegally residing in their territories.
The draft agreements cover not only the illegally staying nationals of both parties but also third country nationals and stateless persons being in an irregular situation provided they have a clear link with the requested party (e.g. visa or resident permit).
EU citizens are already exempt from the visa obligation by the Western Balkan countries.
The conclusion of visa facilitation agreements is to be seen as a concrete step forward along the path set out by the Thessaloniki agenda towards a visa free travel regime for the citizens of Western Balkan countries.