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European Commission Guidance on Reopening the Schengen Area
June 12, 2020
On 13 May 2020 the European Commission published its first guidelines and recommendations on how to safely resume freedom of movement within the European Union.
As per this guidance, several EU countries have lifted internal border controls and eased travel restrictions while others are planning to lift them by 15 June. With Spain ending its state of alarm on 21 June, freedom of movement within the Schengen Area is expected to be restored by the end of June at the latest.
With this in mind, an agreement on the lifting of restrictions of the external Schengen borders with third countries was commonly decided by the EU Home Affairs Ministers meeting last week. Consequently, the European Commission issued a communication on 11 June.
The EU/Schengen countries took the following decisions paving the way for the reopening of the Schengen Area:
|1. Extend the current Schengen travel restrictions on non-essential travel to the EU from third countries until 30 June 2020.|
|2. Lift travel restrictions on non-essential travel to neighboring Western Balkans countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia as of 1 July 2020.|
|3. Gradual lift of travel restrictions on other third countries from 1 July 2020.The EU/Schengen States have agreed on a common approach and coordinated decisions when phasing out current restrictions to third countries in the weeks ahead. We should not expect decisions to be taken unilaterally (as happened at the start of the pandemic).
The re-opening of the Schengen Area will be gradual (not to all third countries imultaneously) and will be based on objective criteria (countries with the same epidemiological situation, their ability to apply containment measures during travel, reciprocity (travel restrictions have also been lifted to ALL the EU). Based on a checklist of considerations to assess the above criteria, the EU/Schengen will agree on a common list of third countries whose nationals and residents can resume non-essential travel to the Schengen Area as of 1 July. This list will be regularly updated.
|4. Extend current non-essential travel exemptions. For all those third countries for whom travel restrictions will still apply (due to, for example, ongoing severe epidemiological conditions, based on infections per capita and trend in infection rate; and/or the country’s overall response to COVID-19), the categories of travelers exempted from the Schengen travel ban would be also extended (although they may still be subject to public health measures):
a) EU/Schengen citizens and third country nationals legally residing in the European Union can travel to the Schengen Area regardless of whether or not they are returning home. In fact, over the last few months, “returning home” has been the only clear exemption to non-essential travel for EU/Schengen nationals and legal residents in the EU.
b) The list of categories of travelers with an essential function or need is also extended to include third-country nationals traveling for the purpose of study; and highly qualified third-country workers if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed abroad. Although it is not clear what documents would be required to prove these individuals would be essential travelers, this is very good news for companies who have been unable to send key personnel to the EU/Schengen over the last few months.
|5. Provide guidance on a phased and coordinated resumption of visa operations abroad.|
We also welcome this further guidance from the EC in order to ensure the reopening of the visa centres abroad.
In summary, the main recommendations for the resumption of visa applications are the following:
- Visa operations should restart in the third countries from where non-essential travel becomes possible.
- All non-essential travel should be permitted for travelers from these countries, and no other categories should be unilaterally introduced such as “priority travelers”. This is because there is no agreement on travel purposes that could constitute a priority. Where possible, all EU Member States should resume operations in the same third countries for which travel restrictions have been lifted.
- Health checks should not be required at the time of application for a visa, which must take place at least 15 days before the intended trip, and can be up to six months before (nine months for seafarers).
- Both consulates and external visa service providers should work together in new protocols to comply with the current health measures: hygiene, prior appointments booking, prioritization of online applications and, payment by contactless cards among others.
- EU/Schengen countries should stick to the Schengen visa code rules and should not systematically grant visas with limited territorial and length validity. In the short term, and as a contingency measure in the case of a second wave of the virus, the recommendation is to grant multiple entry visas with long validity.
- Information to the public should be provided on new health protocols; health requirements in the EU country of destination may apply despite travel being permitted.
- Representation arrangements between EU countries in order to facilitate visa applications in third countries shall also resume.
- In light of all the above considerations, employers should expect to see the following improvements for employees requiring to travel from within or to the EU/Schengen Area over the next few weeks:
- EU and legal residents in the EU/Schengen to resume non-essential travel within the EU/Schengen Area.
- EU nationals and legal residents in the EU and their family members, currently outside the EU/Schengen Area, will be able to travel to the Schengen Area regardless whether or not they are returning home.
- New exemptions from the Schengen travel ban to apply also to key third country high skilled workers.
- EU/Schengen Consulates and Visa centres to resume visa operations in countries with an epidemiological situation equal or better than in the EU/Schengen Area.
This publication was prepared by Raquel Gómez Salas Counsel (Global Immigration) Europe at Newland Chase.
This publication is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are reminded that immigration laws are subject to change. We are not responsible for any loss arising from reliance on this publication. Please contact Newland Chase should you require any additional clarification or case-specific advice.
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