To facilitate the lives of tourists visiting the EU and to stimulate the European economy, the European Commission proposed important changes to the Schengen Area visa rules in April 2014.
The main elements of the package are
- Speeding up the visa process. Reducing the deadline for processing and taking a decision on a visa application from 15 to 10 days.
- Boosting consular cooperation. If the Schengen country responsible for processing the visa application is neither present nor represented in a particular non-EU country, the applicant is entitled to apply at any of the other consulates present ('mandatory representation').
- Repeated visits will be much easier with the introduction of mandatory criteria for obtaining a multiple entry visa (MEV) valid for 3/5 years.
- The establishment of a Touring Visa. This new type of Visa will allow non-EU nationals entering the Schengen area to travel within this zone for up to one year (without staying in one country for more than 90 days in any 180-day period). This could benefit performance artists, as well as tourists, researchers, and students who want to spend more time in Europe.
The package included
- A report, ‘A smarter visa policy for economic growth’ that outlines the future direction of the common EU visa policy based on an assessment of the implementation of the Visa Code during its first 3 years in force
- A legislative proposal to amend the Regulation on the Visa Code
- A legislative proposal for a Regulation establishing a touring visa
Both legislative proposals are being examined by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. They can only enter into force once approved by them both.
The Visa Code only concerns countries applying the common Schengen visa policy (Bulgaria, Croatia, Ireland, Cyprus and Romania do not take part in this visa policy currently).
A study on tourists to the Schengen area from six target markets (China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Ukraine) shows that in 2012, a total of 6.6 million potential tourists from these countries were deterred from travelling to the EU due to the rules governing visa applications.
Based on average spending figures, the study estimated that the tourism industry in the Schengen area loses out on a potential €5.5 billion each year in direct contributions to GDP. This adds up to around 113,000 jobs in tourism and related sectors.
The study concludes that visa facilitation would clearly benefit the tourism sector and the economies of the Schengen area.