Thursday, 8 November 2012 7:30 AM

European Commission Proposes Visa Free Travel

Solomon Islands will join 15 other Island Nations who will soon be able to travel to the Schengen area without a visa, opening up opportunities and advantages to both the EU and the people of these 16 nations.

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed to add five Caribbean Island Nations (Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago), 10 Pacific Island Nations (Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) and Timor-Leste to the list of third countries and territories whose nationals are exempt from the visa obligation.

The move is aimed at simplifying travel to the Schengen area, as well as to Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania. A national from one of these countries would no longer require a visa for short stays (up to 90 days) if he/she is in possession of a passport, be it for business, touristic or family visit purposes. This will make travel planning easier and reduce the traveling costs. Member-States' limited consular presence in many of these countries has resulted in visa applicants often having to travel abroad to apply for a Schengen visa.

The Commission's proposal foresees that the visa exemption will be reciprocated through visa waiver agreements, ensuring a visa free regime for all EU citizens who wish to travel to these countries. Moreover, specific categories of British citizens currently under the visa obligation (an estimated 300,000 people mostly residing in British Overseas Territories like Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos islands) will also be exempted.

It is now up to the European Parliament and to the Council of the European Union to take a final decision on the Commission proposal.

"Traveling without a visa is not just a symbolic gesture - it will have a direct impact on citizens of these countries and on EU citizens, in the form of more people-to-people contacts and business opportunities," said Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.

The Commission also adopted a report on the functioning of the Local Schengen Cooperation. The report evaluates the first two years of implementation of the EU Visa Code and makes concrete recommendations for how cooperation can be improved in the future, for instance by burden sharing of all involved actors. Improved local Schengen cooperation, particularly on the harmonization of practices, will contribute to strengthening the credibility of the EU common visa policy and will ensure that all visa applicants receive equal, fair and transparent treatment.

Wednesday's proposal to transfer these 16 countries to the visa-free list by amending EU Regulation is the result of the regular review process carried out by the European Commission. It is based on a case by case assessment of technical requirements and criteria relating to irregular migration, public policy and security, and to the European Union's external relations with third countries.

Since its adoption, the Visa Regulation has been amended eight times. Most recently, in 2010 when Taiwan, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina were transferred to the visa-free list.

Currently, the Schengen area includes 22 EU Member States and four associated States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). Once nationals from these non-EU countries enter the Schengen area, they can move freely from one country to another. The visa waiver will also apply to Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus which are not yet full members of the Schengen area.

The UK and Ireland do not participate in the Schengen cooperation and do not take part in the common visa policy. They therefore have separate visa arrangements with non-EU countries.

In 2011, EU Member States and the countries participating in the Schengen cooperation issued around 12 million visas.