Several Member States have brought back to the table the idea of using the European Union’s visa policy as a tool to control irregular migration to the bloc, and this way, push third countries to take back their citizens who are illegally staying in the EU.
The idea has resurfaced again during a meeting of the EU Home Affairs Ministers in Sweden on Thursday, January 26, focused on the fight against irregular migration and organised crime, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
“Should intensified political and diplomatic efforts not produce the desired results, member states call on the (European) Commission to come back to the (European) Council with proposals on visa restrictions,” said Sweden’s Minister of Migration Maria Malmer Stenergard, who also chaired the meeting.
Several countries, including here the Netherlands and Lithuania, have backed the proposals and urged the Commission to act on it. The idea, however, is not supported by all, as some countries, like Germany, have some reservations.
According to data, in 2021, only 21 per cent of the 340,500 orders for migrants to be returned to their countries of origin were carried out.
In Lithuania alone, 4,200 irregular migrants reached the country in 2022, and only one in four returned voluntarily to their home country, which in spite of being a low share, is still one of the best in the EU.
“We needed a proper EU legal framework yesterday already to counter the instrumentalisation of migration used against Member States,” Lithuanian Interior Minister, Arnoldas Abramavicius, said throughout the meeting.
The idea of using the EU’s visa policy as leverage for pushing third countries to take back their citizens staying in the EU without a basis was introduced by the EU Interior Ministers back in March 2021.
However, since then, EU visa measures have been introduced only for citizens of the Gambia, making it more difficult to obtain a Schengen Visa in this country and increasing the fee prices.
“The measures mean that all applicants have to submit a full set of documentary evidence and that the 15 calendar days processing period as well as the issuing of multiple entry visas will be suspended. The optional visa fee waiver for holders of diplomatic and service passports should also be suspended,” the Commission had explained at the time of introducing the measures.
While no decision has been taken regarding the idea of using visa policy as leverage for more countries, the Ministers have been presented with a proposal of the EU which intends to modernise and optimise the return procedures in each EU Member State while increasing voluntary returns by making it easier for those returned to reintegrate easier in their home country.
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