The European Commission published Tuesday a review of the functioning of the EU’s visa-free regimes, identifying the main challenges in the areas of irregular migration and security. With the Communication on the monitoring of the EU’s visa-free travel regimes setting out a consultation process, the Commission is launching a consultation process to meet the objective of paving the way for a legislative proposal amending the visa suspension mechanism.

The main purpose of the Visa Suspension Mechanism, set out in Article 8 of the Visa Regulation, is to enable a temporary suspension of the visa exemption in case of a sudden and substantial increase in irregular migration or security risks.

The EU has currently a visa free-regime in place with 61 non-EU countries. 25 countries have visa waiver agreements with the EU and 8 obtained visa exemption as a result of the successful completion of a visa liberalisation dialogue (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine). The remaining countries obtained visa exemption in accordance with the first harmonisation of EU rules (Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001). Additionally, on 19 April 2023, the Council and the European Parliament agreed to grant a visa exemption to Kosovo, following the successful completion of a visa liberalisation dialogue, which will enter into force as of 1 January 2024 at the latest.

Significant migration and security challenges can derive from visa-free travel, says the EU executive. Insufficient visa alignment with the EU visa policy can turn a visa-free country into a transit hub for irregular entries to the EU. This was the case of visa-free entries into the Western Balkans by nationals of countries that are visa-required for the EU, increasing the number of irregular arrivals to the EU in 2022. The issue was addressed after immediate and extensive contacts between the Commission and Western Balkans partners, who made substantial progress in visa alignment. As a result, irregular arrivals to the EU have reduced. Additionally, investor citizenship schemes operated by visa-free third countries pose security risks including those related to infiltration of organised crime, money-laundering, tax evasion and corruption for the EU. These allow non-EU nationals to acquire the nationality of a visa-free country and enter visa free into the EU, by-passing the EU short stay visa procedure.

The Commission says existing rules concerning the monitoring of the functioning of visa-free regimes with third countries and the suspension of visa exemptions now need to be ‘re-assessed and improved’.

With the Communication, the Commission is launching a consultation process with the European Parliament and the Council to identify how best to improve the EU’s visa suspension mechanism. A future revision of the rules could notably include: new grounds for suspension to address new risks; adapting the thresholds for triggering the mechanism; making the suspension procedure more efficient and flexible; strengthening of monitoring and reporting provisions.

The Commission will now discuss with the Parliament and the Council how to strengthen the visa policy toolbox with a revised Visa Suspension Mechanism.

Source: EUbusiness

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