17th Oct 2019

EU relaxes rules on short-stay visas

The EU has relaxed rules for people trying to enter its passport-free 'Schengen' zone, in a move which spells good news for Belarus.

Under the terms of a new code which came into force on Monday (5 April), people applying for a short-stay Schengen visa should wait no longer than two weeks for a consular appointment and should receive a decision no later than 15 days down the line.

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  • The new code spells good news for Belarussians, who do not benefit from an EU visa-facilitation deal (Photo: mpd01605)

Children aged six to 12 years old should pay €35 instead of the standard €60 fee, while people aged 25 years or less taking part in NGO-sponsored events should pay nothing at all.

People, such as lorry drivers, who need to come in and out of the EU frequently, and who are "known ...for his/her integrity and reliability" should be granted multiple-entry permits more easily.

The rules apply to nationals from all foreign countries which normally require a visa to enter Schengen. But they are likely to have the biggest immediate impact on Belarus.

The EU and Schengen accession of former Communist countries such as Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia in recent years has caused problems for people in neighbouring states, which saw a new visa regime all-but close borders from one day to the next.

Moldova, Russia and Ukraine have in the meantime signed visa-facilitation deals with the EU, which offer even better terms on paper than the new code.

But Belarus remains frozen out due to its authoritarian government, causing problems for small-time border traders and pro-democracy activists alike, with the €60/visa fee being the equivalent of the monthly minimum wage in Belarus.

The new EU rulebook recommends that young people and diplomats should be exempt from the fee altogether, but it does not make the waiver compulsory.

It also envisages a common list of grounds for refusing visas from April 2011 onward. But individual member states will continue to set their own rules for long-stay visas of over 90 days' duration.

The Schengen zone embraces 22 EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland and issued 10.4 million short-stay visas last year.

Ireland and the UK have opted out, while Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania are still waiting to join.

The visa code also sketches out a new role for the EU's foreign delegations, which are accreting more powers under the Lisbon Treaty.

The delegations are to "play a co-ordinating role" in making sure that EU countries' consulates in third countries comply with the rulebook.

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