The European Commission has proposed a host of measures to liberalise visa rules for non-EU nationals that could lead to €130bn in direct spending and 1.3m jobs over the next five years.
The Commission believes its package of reforms will boost tourism and bring researchers, students, artists and other professionals to European shores. Demand for visas has been soaring over recent years.
The number of visa applications between 2009 and 2013 rose by 68 per cent, from 10.2m in 2009 to 17.2m in 2013.
The Commission would like to change the rules so it takes 10 days instead of 15 to come to a decision and process a visa. The application deadline would be extended from three months to six months.
Regular travellers could also receive substantial facilitations including mandatory issuing of multiple entry visas valid for three years and subsequently for five years for 'VIS registered regular' travellers.
Under the proposals application forms could be simplified and filled out online. A new type of "touring" visa that would allow travellers to move around the Schengen area for a year, with the possibility of an extension of up to two years is also included in the proposals.
Commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani, said:
These changes will help the tourism industry to deal with the expected considerable increase of the flows of tourists visiting Europe. Tourism is Europe´s growth engine and has been the most important stronghold of European economy during the recent crisis.
Tourism has been one of the few bright spots for the European economy over recent years.
In 2013, the number of nights spent in tourism accommodation in France rose by 1.1 per cent, while Spain was up one per cent, and Germany up 1.3 per cent.
Greece was a bigger winner from tourism with a jump of 11.7 per cent in nights stayed. Greece recorded 87.3m nights stayed in 2013.
Visa liberalisation for non-EU nationals has the potential not only to be a source of economic growth and dynamism, but of smart international relations, with regards to the EU's response to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Executive vice president for international programs at the Atlas Network, Tom Palmer, told the European Students for Liberty Conference in Berlin that a policy of visa-free travel for ordinary Russian and Ukrainian citizens could do far more to foster peace and cooperation and undermine the nationalist rhetoric of the Kremlin than visa-restrictions ever could.
Palmer told City A.M. last week:
Allow them to come to freer societies and see what it’s like not to be afraid of the arbitrary power of the authorities. In contrast, not allowing easier travel for regular citizens will be perceived as collective punishment
Indeed, Visa-free travel for Russian citizens could provide the west with a positive response to the crisis in Ukraine without harming the economic prospects of ordinary citizens.
The proposals must be approved by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. The earliest this is expected to happen is 2015.
If implemented the proposals will only apply to all EU member states that applying the common Schengen visa policy as well as Schengen associated states.