Visa-free travel: Progress, but hurdles remain

Brussels, 27-11-2012 — / —  How well are countries outside the EU living up to their commitments when it comes to offering visa-free travel to EU citizens? Today, the European Commission adopted its seventh report about breaches of the principle of visa reciprocity in third countries. The report shows that visa-free travel for EU citizens has been achieved towards more countries in the past year, for example with Brazil. For some countries, however, EU citizens are still required to obtain a visa for travels that should be visa-free.

Overall, the current ‘reciprocity mechanism’ has proved efficient when a third country whose citizens are exempt from the EU visa requirement maintains its own requirement for citizens of EU Member States. The number of these non-reciprocity cases has been reduced significantly since the introduction of the mechanism in 2005, when nearly one hundred cases with 18 countries were reported.

It is clear, however, that the existing mechanism needs revising to make it quicker and more efficient in order to achieve full visa reciprocity with all third countries that are exempt from visa requirements.

“We must make sure that the principle of visa reciprocity is fully respected”, said Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs. “Therefore, we are pursuing our efforts in order to solve the remaining cases of non-reciprocity, with the U.S. and with Canada. The Commission is eagerly awaiting the adoption by the European Parliament and the Council of a new, reinforced, reciprocity mechanism, which would give us a stronger tool to act.

The following progress has been made since the last report in November 2010:

  • Citizens of all Member States are now allowed to travel visa-free to Brazil, thanks to the entry into force of the EU-Brazil short stay visa waiver agreement for ordinary passport holders on 1 October 2012.
  • Japanese authorities have decided to extend the temporary visa waiver granted for Romanian citizens until 31 December 2012. The Commission hopes that, further to the implementation of specific measures agreed between Romania and Japan, the temporary visa waiver will be converted by Japan into a permanent one.
  • Full visa reciprocity was achieved with Brunei for all EU Member States, as well as for Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The Commission intends to request the extension of the visa waiver for stays up to 90 days also for citizens of Liechtenstein.

Regretfully, there are still two important cases of “non-reciprocity” that remain: the United States of America still maintains a visa requirement for citizens of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Poland; Canada also imposes a visa requirement for the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania.

The U.S. considers that the Member States concerned still do not meet all criteria for visa exemption set in its legislation, in particular the thresholds for visa refusal and/or overstay rates. By reintroducing the visa requirement for Czech citizens, Canada intended to reduce the number of unfounded asylum applications coming from the EU.

Some positive developments are expected (a new draft Visa Waiver Programme legislation in the US, a new asylum legislation in Canada), but to date no solution has been found.

In a bid to overcome the limits of the current mechanism, on 24 May 2011, the Commission proposed to the European Parliament and the Council to adopt a new, more efficient, mechanism (IP/11/629). The two co-legislators have not yet agreed on the final form the revised mechanism will take, but it is likely that it will allow the EU to put more pressure on third countries not respecting the reciprocity principle.


Not all third countries nationals must have a visa in order to travel to the Schengen area for a short stay. The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a visa and a list of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement (see Council Regulation (EC) 539/2001).

It is therefore logical that the EU also urges third that are visa free to grant a visa waiver to citizens of all EU Member States. For this reason, a visa reciprocity mechanism has been set up in Council Regulation (EC) 539/2001 (reviewed through Council Regulation (EC) N° 851/2005)

If a country that is visa free introduces a visa requirement for one or more EU Member States, the Member State(s) concerned must notify the Commission, which takes steps with the authorities of the third country to restore visa-free travel and reports to the European Parliament and the Council. The Commission can also propose to the Council retaliatory measures vis-à-vis the third country in question.

The Commission has already issued several general reports regarding the implementation of the visa reciprocity mechanism (last report in November 2010 – IP/10/1473).

Useful Links

Cecilia Malmström’s website

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Michele Cercone (+32 2 298 09 63)

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