Documents considered by the Committee on 2 May 2018 Contents

5Adapting EU visa policy to new migration and security challenges

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

(a) Cleared from scrutiny;

(b) Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the Committee on Exiting the European Union

Document details

(a) Commission Communication: Adapting the common visa policy to new challenges;

(b) Proposal for a Regulation amending the EU Visa Code

Legal base

(a)—

(b) Article 77(2)(a) TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Home Office

Document Numbers

(a) (39558), 7172/18, COM(18) 251; (b) (39559), 7173/18 + ADDs 1–3, COM(18) 252

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

5.1The EU’s common visa policy is intended to facilitate legitimate travel, prevent irregular migration and safeguard public order and security within the border-free Schengen area. It is based on a set of harmonised rules which:

5.2All visa applications and decisions are entered in the Visa Information System (VIS), an EU database containing details on each visa applicant, their photograph and fingerprints.69 Most elements of the EU’s common visa policy—the EU Visa Regulation, the EU Visa Code and the Visa Information System—build on parts of the Schengen rule book which do not apply to the UK.

5.3In its Communication—document (a)—the Commission calls for an overhaul of EU visa policy to reflect the new migration and security challenges confronting the EU. It proposes a number of changes to the EU Visa Code which are intended to:

5.4These changes are set out in the proposed Regulation—document (b)—which would amend the EU Visa Code. The Commission also intends to propose changes to the Visa Information System later in the year as part of a wider package of measures to make EU information systems interoperable and ensure that all relevant information on visa applicants can be checked at the same time. It will launch a feasibility study at the end of 2018 on the possible introduction of fully automated visa application procedures and digital visas.

5.5The Immigration Minister (Caroline Nokes) confirms that the UK does not take part in the EU Visa Code and that the changes set out in the proposed Regulation will not therefore apply to, or have any direct impact on, the UK. She says that the UK will continue to operate its own visa system and visa application procedures.

5.6We accept the Minister’s assurance that the proposed changes to the EU Visa Code will have “no direct impact upon the UK” while the UK remains a member of the European Union. This is because UK citizens are also citizens of the European Union and are entitled to “move and reside freely” within the EU, without the need for a visa, even though the UK is outside the Schengen border-free area.71 This will no longer be the case when the UK leaves the EU (and any transitional/implementation period extending the application of EU free movement rules has expired) as UK citizens will no longer be able to enjoy the rights associated with EU citizenship.

5.7EU visa policy operates on the basis of reciprocity, meaning that if the UK were to introduce a requirement for the nationals of one or more EU Member States to obtain a visa to visit the UK post-exit, the EU would likely reciprocate by imposing a visa requirement on UK nationals travelling to the EU. The former Home Secretary (Amber Rudd) told the Home Affairs Committee in March that the Government expects to publish an Immigration White Paper “at the end of this year” and an Immigration Bill setting out future arrangements “at the start of next year sometime”.72 She said it would be for the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Mr David Davis) to determine whether the UK’s immigration system for EU citizens post-exit should form part of the negotiations on the UK’s future partnership with the EU, based on “proposals and alternatives” put forward by the Home Office.73

5.8Given this uncertainty as to the UK’s future immigration policy, as well as the likelihood that it will affect EU policy towards UK citizens who wish to travel to the EU after any transitional/implementation period, we cannot exclude the possibility that UK citizens may, in the future, require a visa to travel to the EU. Any changes to EU visa policy may therefore have direct implications for UK citizens which the Minister does not address in the section of her Explanatory Memorandum dealing with policy and exit implications. We ask the Minister to tell us what assessment the Government has made of the costs and benefits of a reciprocal visa regime for UK travellers to the EU and EU travellers to the UK post-exit, particularly in terms of the impact on tourism and trade.

5.9We understand that the Government wishes to flesh out much of the detail of the UK’s future partnership with the EU by the autumn, before it has published its Immigration White Paper and Bill. We seek an assurance that the Government will inform Parliament promptly of any options it puts forward in the future partnership negotiations which may affect the immigration status of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU27.

5.10The Minister expresses no view on the substance of the changes proposed to the EU Visa Code. If UK nationals were to be required to obtain a visa to travel to the EU post-exit, we ask the Minister:

5.11We also ask whether the Government considers it appropriate to establish a formal link between visa policy and cooperation on readmission and returns.

5.12Pending further information, the proposed Regulation—document (b)—remains under scrutiny. We are content to clear the Commission Communication—document (a). We draw this chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the Committee on Exiting the European Union.

Full details of the documents

(a) Commission Communication: Adapting the common visa policy to new challenges: (39558), 7172/18, COM(18) 251. (b) Proposal for a Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 810/2009 establishing a Community Code on Visas (Visa Code): (39559), 7173/18 + ADDs 1–3, COM(18) 252.

Background

5.13The changes to the EU Visa Code form part of a wider package of measures put forward by the Commission to manage migration to the EU more effectively and respond to the heightened security threat. The measures include two new EU information systems—an Entry/Exit System and a proposed European Travel Information and Authorisation System—to strengthen checks on third country nationals travelling to the Schengen area and a proposal to make EU border control, migration and security information systems interoperable.75 The Commission’s aim is to close information gaps, enhance internal security and prevent irregular migration by making it easier for immigration and law enforcement authorities to access relevant data held in different EU information systems.

The Commission Communication—document (a)

5.14The Commission explains that the common visa policy is an essential part of the Schengen rule book and “one of the most valued achievements of EU integration”, facilitating tourism and business within the 26 countries forming part of the border-free Schengen area. The citizens of 105 third (non-EU) countries and entities are currently required to hold a visa when travelling to a Schengen country for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period. A short-stay visa issued by one Schengen country entitles its holder to travel to other countries in the Schengen area. The demand for Schengen visas has increased by 50% since 2009 (from 10.2 million to 15.2 million in 2016). During this period, visa application procedures have remained largely unchanged and, in the Commission’s view, are too lengthy, cumbersome and out-of-date, operating as a brake on tourism and investment.76 The Commission also highlights the migration challenges facing the EU and the potential to use the common visa policy as a tool to incentivise third countries to cooperate with the EU on the readmission and return of irregular migrants, including those who enter the EU legally but overstay their visa. It says that the changes it is proposing to the EU Visa Code serve a dual purpose: making it easier to process visas for legitimate travellers whilst introducing more onerous conditions for applicants from countries with a poor record of cooperation with the EU on readmission and return.

5.15The Commission previews changes to the Visa Information System (VIS) which it will present shortly. These are intended to enhance security and facilitate more accurate background checks on visa applicants by making the Visa Information System interoperable with other EU border control, migration and security information systems. The Commission also envisages the creation within VIS of a central repository of long-stay visa and residence documents issued by Member States. It is contemplating a reduction in the age at which the fingerprints of child visa applicants can be taken and stored within VIS (to protect against trafficking as well as irregular migration) and the possibility of storing copies of travel documents submitted with each visa application.

The proposed Regulation—document (b)

5.16The Commission says that the changes it is proposing focus on “streamlining and improving operational aspects of the visa procedure” and “will not fundamentally alter the [EU] Visa Code”.77 It highlights the following benefits for visa applicants:

5.17The Commission proposal also seeks to promote spontaneous travel by authorising Member States to introduce temporary seasonal schemes which would enable tourists to apply for a single-entry visa at specific external land or sea border crossing points. These schemes could only operate for four months of the year and would only be open to nationals of third countries which have concluded a readmission agreement with the EU. The visas issued would only be valid for a maximum of seven days in the territory of the issuing Member State and would not allow entry to other Schengen countries.

5.18The Commission says that Member States will need additional resources to process visa applications more efficiently and proposes an increase in the visa fee from €60 (£53.05) to €80 (£70.73) for adults and from €35 (£30.95) to €40 (£35.37) for children aged 6–12 years. There would continue to be no fee for children under the age of six. The Commission notes that the last increase was in 2006 and that the higher fee remains low by international standards.78 The Commission also proposes a new mechanism to review the visa fee every two years to take account of inflation.

5.19Whilst most of the changes in the proposed Regulation are procedural in nature, one has a more political aspect. The Commission recognises that the existing Visa Code “was not designed for use as leverage towards individual third countries, but rather as a means of standardising visa issuing procedures and conditions”.79 It considers that:

“[…] the changed migration situation and increased security threat in recent years have shifted the political debate on the Schengen area, in general, and visa policy, in particular, towards a reassessment of the balance between migration and security concerns, economic considerations and general external relations.”80

5.20The revised EU Visa Code would include a new Article 25a authorising the Commission to introduce more stringent conditions for processing visa applications made by the nationals of third countries that are unwilling to cooperate with Member States on the return of irregular migrants. This might mean that it would take longer to process visa applications, it would be harder to obtain a multiple-entry visa or the visa fee would be doubled to €160.

5.21The proposed Regulation is based on Article 77(2)(a) TFEU which authorises the adoption of measures concerning the common visa policy and other short-stay residence permits.

The Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum of 20 April 2018

5.22The Minister sets out the changes proposed by the Commission to the EU Visa Code. She notes that the proposal would, for the first time, establish a formal link between visa issuing procedures and a third country’s cooperation on readmission, setting out the criteria against which cooperation will be measured and the action to be taken if the Commission determines that cooperation on readmission is inadequate. She also highlights the new “cascade” system for multiple-entry visas and explains how it would work:

“Visas are issued initially for a period of 6 months. If the applicant has been issued and complied with three such visas in the previous two years then they may be issued a one-year visa. If they comply with that visa and apply for another within two years then they are next issued a 2-year visa and finally if they comply and apply again within two years then their next visa should be valid for 5 years. The validity of the visa is limited to the validity of the travel document. There are options to derogate in limited circumstances, but this is meant to be the exception rather than the rule.”81

5.23The Minister says that the proposed seasonal scheme for issuing visas at specific external land or sea border crossing points would “formalise a looser scheme which was permissible under the previous Visa Code”.82

5.24Although there is no specific timetable for agreeing the proposed changes to the EU Visa Code, the Minister notes that the Commission has called for swift progress and that the Bulgarian Presidency is keen to obtain political agreement within the Council before its term ends in June.

Previous Committee Reports

None on these documents.


66 See Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 listing the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt.

68 See Regulation (EC) No 1683/95 laying down a uniform format for visas.

69 The roll-out of VIS began in 2011. The System became fully operational by December 2015.

70 See the European Commission’s information sheet on A stronger, more efficient and secure EU visa policy.

71 See Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which sets out the rights of EU citizens and the “conditions and limits” which determine how these rights can be exercised.

74 See the proposed new Article 36a.

75 For further information on these proposals, see our Third Report HC 71–ii (2016–17), chapter 14, (25 May 2016) on the EU Entry/Exit System; our Twenty-fifth Report HC 71–xxxiii (2016–17), chapter 12 (11 January 2017) on the European Travel Information and Authorisation System and our Sixteenth Report HC 301–xvi (2017–19), chapter 9 (28 February 2018) on interoperable information systems.

76 See the European Commission’s fact sheet on changes to the common EU visa policy.

77 See pp.1–2 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Regulation.

78 For comparison, the Commission fact sheet gives the cost in euros of tourist visas for the US (€133), China (€125), Australia and India (€90) and New Zealand (€100). Canada (at €67) is cheaper.

79 See p.2 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Regulation.

80 Ibid.

81 See para 28 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.

82 See para 31 of the Minister’s Explanatory Memorandum.




Published: 8 May 2018