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ETC: New Visa Rules a Step Forward But More Must be Done

The European Travel Commission (ETC) on Monday welcomed the adoption of more flexible and harmonized EU visa rules agreed by the European Institutions, but highlighted that more changes are required for the European tourism industry to reach its full potential.

On April 17, the European Parliament endorsed the agreement reached with the Council on the European Commission’s proposal to modernize the EU’s Visa Code. According to the Commission, the new rules make it easier for bona fide travelers to obtain a visa to come to Europe for short stays, whilst strengthening security standards and reducing irregular migration risks.

The new rules include in particular more flexible procedures (travelers will be able to submit their applications up to 6 months in advance and electronically when possible); multiple entry visas with longer validity (frequent travelers with a positive visa history can receive a multiple-entry visa with a gradually increasing validity period from 1 year to a maximum of 5 years); additional resources for strengthening security (the visa fee will increase from 60 euros to 80 euros and allow Member States to maintain adequate levels of consular staff worldwide to ensure stronger security screenings and upgrade IT equipment and software); and improving cooperation on readmission (the conditions for processing visa applications can be adapted depending on whether a third country cooperates satisfactorily on the return and readmission of irregular migrants).

Concerns with new visa rules

The ETC noted that the new regulation includes some counterproductive, regressive changes to the existing legislation. In particular, ETC considers the increase in the visa application fee from 60 to 80 euros to be detrimental to the tourism industry in Europe. ETC maintains that in order for the tourism industry to continue to thrive, there should be no increase to the cost of visas.

ETC also considers the deletion of the proposed by the Commission ability to obtain short-term visas at the borders of the Schengen area a missed opportunity, as such a procedure would have further incentivised travelers to visit the EU.

Moreover, underlining the importance of further digitalisation of the visa application process, the ETC called for concrete measures to be implemented.

Positive developments

The ETC highly welcomed the extension of the Multiple Entry Visa (MEV) to a maximum period of 5 years. “In times when many European capitals are struggling with mass tourism, MEVs will be a valid tool stimulating sustainable tourism development,” the ETC said in an announcement.

Also applauded by the ETC is that the revised regulation includes a provision to allow third-country travelers to apply for visas at their country of residence, “a move which will undoubtedly increase visitors’ numbers from emerging markets”.

Another positive development is the amount of time in advance a third-country traveler must apply for a Schengen visa. “A three-month increase up to 6 months in advance is welcome progress,” the ETC said, adding that it will enable tourists to plan their trips better and in a more cost-efficient manner, and will also benefit the European tourism industry, especially the hospitality sector.

The new legislation must now be formally approved by the Council and then published in the Official Journal of the EU. Once published, the Regulation will be applicable across the EU six months after that. The revised rules should therefore be up and running by 2020.

According to Commissioner for Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, the new rules will facilitate tourism, trade and business while enhancing Europe’s security standards to detect those who pose a threat or have no right to enter the EU.

“They will also help improve cooperation with non-EU countries on the return and readmission of irregular migrants,” Avramopoulos said in an announcement.

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