In this section you will find:
- EMA projects dealing with such issues
- Background Information about EU Visa Policy
- Chronology of the Visa Liberalisation Process of Albania
- Progress of Visa Liberalization Requirements
- Key documents of the Visa Liberalisation process
- EMA’s analysis
- Readiness reports submitted by the Albanian government
- The EC Assessment Reports on Albanian progress towards fulfillment of benchmarks embedded in the Roadmap towards visa free regime with Albania
- Other actors monitoring, analysing, reporting on such matters
- Useful links
Background Information about EU Visa Policy
1. The Schengen Area
The Schengen Area guarantees unrestricted travel within a territory of 26 countries (of which 22 are EU states), home to more than 400 million citizens. The Schengen area is encircled by 42 673 km of sea borders and 7 721 km of land borders. The construction of the Schengen area began in 1985 when five countries signed the Schengen Agreement that set out the gradual abolition of checks at common borders. It was named after a small village in Luxembourg that is located on the point where its borders meet those of Germany and France. Having started as an initiative between governments, Schengen cooperation is now incorporated into EU laws and rules. The agreement was supplemented by the 1990 Schengen Implementing Convention that set out the final abolition of internal border controls, as well as a series of necessary accompanying measures. The convention strengthened external border checks, defined procedures for issuing uniform visas, established the SIS, increased police cooperation at internal borders and improved action against drug trafficking. Being part of the area without internal border controls means that these countries:
• do not carry out border checks at their internal borders (i.e. borders between two Schengen states);
• carry out harmonised controls, based on clearly defined criteria, at their external borders (i.e. borders between a Schengen state and a non-Schengen state).
As a result, both EU citizens and non-EU nationals may freely travel within the Schengen area and are checked only when crossing the external border.
2. The Common Visa Policy of EU
The border-free Schengen Area cannot function efficiently without a common visa policy which facilitates the entry of legal visitors into the EU, while strengthening internal security. The EU has established a common visa policy for transit through or intended stays in the territory of a Schengen States of no more than 90 days in any 180 days period and for transit through the international transit areas of airports of the Schengen. The EU has a common list of countries whose citizens must have a visa when crossing the external borders and a list of countries whose citizens are exempt from that requirement. These lists are set out in Regulation No 539/2001 and its successive amendments.
Visa reciprocity – The EU aims at achieving full visa reciprocity with the non-EU countries whose nationals are exempt from the visa requirement. Thus, EU citizens would not need a visa either for travelling to these non-EU countries. For that purpose, a visa reciprocity mechanism has been set up.
Visa facilitation agreements – So far, the EU has concluded visa facilitation agreements with the various non-EU countries. Based on these agreements, both the EU and non-EU citizens benefit from facilitated procedures for issuing visas. The Visa Facilitation agreement between the European Community and Albania has entered into force on 01/01/2008. Visa facilitation agreements are linked to readmission agreements. Readmission agreements establish the procedures for the return to the EU or to the partner non-EU country of persons (own and third country nationals or stateless persons) in irregular situation.
3. Progress of Visa Liberalization Requirements
a. Visa Suspension Mechanism – The visa suspension mechanism was first introduced as part of the EU visa policy in 2013 to provide for the possibility to temporarily suspend the visa exemption for the nationals of a third country for a short period of time in case of a substantial increase in irregular migration. In May 2016, the Commission proposed to revise the existing rules in order to further strengthen this mechanism. The new measures allow the European Union to react more quickly and in a more flexible manner if faced by strong migratory pressure or an increase in risk to the internal security of Member States that may arise from visa-free travel. Under the revised mechanism, the Commission can now trigger the mechanism, whereas previously only Member States could do so.
In addition, the revised mechanism also introduced an obligation for the Commission to:
– monitor the continuous fulfilment of the visa liberalisation requirements
– report about this continuous fulfilment regularly to the European Parliament and to the Council
The revised suspension mechanism was adopted in February 2017 and entered into force on 28 March 2017.
The suspension mechanism can be triggered in the following circumstances:
– a substantial increase (more than 50%) of irregular migration, including people found to be staying irregularly, and persons refused entry at the border;
– a substantial increase (more than 50%) of asylum applications with low recognition rate (around 3-4%);
– a decrease of cooperation on readmission, notably in case of an increasing refusal rate for readmission applications;
– an increased risk to the security of Member States, in particular serious criminal offences.
Reports under the Visa Suspension Mechanism
The Commission reports annually on the functioning of the visa-free regime with the Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), as well as the Eastern Partnership countries (Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine). The report is an assessment of the progress under the new suspension mechanism for the eight countries benefiting from visa-free travel under the visa liberalisation scheme. The assessment period starts with the adoption date of the First Report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism in December 2017. This report continues to focus on specific areas where further actions are necessary to ensure the sustainability of the progress achieved.
Second Report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism 2018 – This report shows that the visa liberalisation requirements for the concerned countries continue to be met, but that action – in some cases immediate – is required for a number of countries in specific areas to ensure this continues to be the case. All 8 countries have taken measures to address irregular migration, however further efforts are needed to improve and ensure sustainable.; On the other hand, Report assesses that Despite measures taken to fight organised crime, further reinforced efforts are needed from all 8 countries
First Report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism 2017 – All eight countries have demonstrated full commitment to meeting the necessary requirements and have undertaken important efforts to implement a number of far-reaching reforms set out under their visa liberalisation processes. The Commission considers that all countries assessed continue to fulfill the visa liberalisation benchmarks.
b. ETIAS – Recent security concerns with terrorism and the migrant crisis have called for a better management of who is entering EU borders. To reduce procedures and wait times, as well as address the security concerns, the European Commission (EC) has come up with a solution – ETIAS. The main reason for the approval of the ETIAS authorization is security. What this means, is that the ETIAS will detect if a person is a threat in any way to the security of Schengen countries. This will lead to the person being denied entry and avoiding the threat from being present inside EU borders. ETIAS stands for European Travel Information and Authorization System. It is a completely electronic system which allows and keeps track of visitors from countries who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Zone. In a way, it resembles the U.S Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which serves a similar purpose. The legal procedures to pass the ETIAS have started in 2016, and the system is expected to be in place by 2020. The ETIAS will undergo a detailed security check of each applicant to determine whether they can be allowed to enter any Schengen Zone country. Since citizens of countries who do not need a visa for travel purposes of up to 90 days in the EU do not need to go through a long process of applying for the visa, the ETIAS will make sure that these people are not a security threat. This travel authorization system will gather, keep track of, and update necessary information regarding visitors to determine whether it is safe for them to enter Schengen countries. It will be mandatory for all countries who are Schengen visa-free, including Albania and other Western Balkan countries. The ETIAS system will be simple to use and will save time for applicants and for processing. Those who want to get approval, will have to follow these steps to apply for ETIAS: 1. Filling out the application form – The ETIAS application is expected to take about 20 minutes to fill out. It will be online so you will not have to go through paperwork; 2. Submitting the application – When you complete the application, you will have to pay the fee (it is planned to cost 7 €) and submit it.If what you filled out on the application form is correct, and you are eligible and not risky for the ETIAS, then you will be approved.
Source: Schengen Visa Info. Please refer to this webpage for more information about ETIAS.
4. EC Post-Visa Liberalisation Monitoring Reports for the Western Balkan countries:
EC, Fifth report on the post-visa liberalisation monitoring for the Western Balkan countries 2015
EC, Fourth report on the post-visa liberalisation monitoring for the Western Balkan countries 2013
EC, Third report on the post-visa liberalisation monitoring for the Western Balkan countries 2012
EC, Second report on the post-visa liberalisation monitoring for the Western Balkan countries 2011
EC, First report on the post-visa liberalisation monitoring for the Western Balkan countries 2011
Chronology of the Visa Liberalisation Process with Albania
20 December 2017 – EC presents its first Report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism for the Western Balkans countries and Eastern Partnership countries.
30 May 2011 – EC presents its first “post-visa liberalisation monitoring report“, assessing the progress made by the five Western Balkan countries in continuing the visa Roadmap reforms.
April 2011 – The Commission and Member State expert visit Albania to verify on continued implementation of the Roadmap benchmarks.
24 – 25 February 2011 – The EC presents its monitoring mechanism to the JHA Council assessing the implementation of measures taken by the Western Balkan countries during the visa liberalisation process.
15 December 2010 – Entry into force of the visa – free travel for Albanian citizens.
8 November 2010 – The JHA Council of EU votes pro lifting the visa regime for Albanian citizens. Meanwhile, Commission initiates a new follow-up monitoring mechanism to observe continued implementation of the Roadmap conditions as well as inflows of asylum seekers or illegal migrants.
6 – 7 October 2010 – The European Parliament vote in favor of lifting the visa requirements for Albania with 538 votes in favor and 47 against.
14 September 2010 – The EC presents the fourth Assessment Report which concludes that Albania has met the remaining open benchmarks and as the result the EC proposes the lifting of visa regime.
July 2010 – The EC introduces the legislative proposal to lift the visa regime with Albania based on the conclusions of the assessment report of the last experts’ missions.
27 May 2010 – The EC issues a legislative proposal suggesting visa – free travel to Albania on condition that the country would meet the outstanding benchmarks until the September Assessment Report.
19 April 2010 – The EC issues an updated assessment (fourth Assessment Report) for Albania, indicating substantial progress. Remains a limited number of benchmarks to be addressed.
January – February 2010 – EU experts carry out another a second field assessment in Albania for Block two and three of the Roadmap towards visa free regime with Albania.
27 November 2009 – The EC presents the third Assessment Report to the Albanian government.
16 July 2009 – The EC proposes to the EU Council of Ministers the lifting of the visa regime with Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
18 May 2009 – The EC presents the second Assessment Report to the Albanian government.
January – April 2009 – The EC and Member States carry out a field assessment in the Western Balkans on the progress in meeting the benchmarks.
24 November 2008 – The EC presents the first Assessment Report on Albanian progress towards meeting the benchmarks of the Visa Roadmap.
1 September 2008 – The Albanian Government submits the first Readiness Report, which measured the progress achieved towards meeting the Roadmap’s benchmarks.
3 June 2008 – The European Commission (EC) submits the Roadmap towards visa free regime to Albania, which presents officially a concrete step towards visa – free regime for the Albanian citizens. The Roadmap embedded 42 benchmarks divided in 4 blocks: Document security; Illegal migration including readmission; Public order and security; External relations and fundamental rights.
7 March 2008 – The EU Commissioner from Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council, Mr. Franco Frattini launches the dialogue towards visa liberalisation between Albania and the European Community.
1 January 2008 – Entry into force of the Visa Facilitation Agreement (VFA) which marks the first concrete step towards a visa – free regime for citizens of the Western Balkan countries.
1 May 2006 – Entry into force of the Readmission Agreement between Albania and the European Community.
20 November 2006 – Opening of negotiations for the Visa Facilitation Agreement (VFA) and Readmission Agreement with the Western Balkan countries.
14 April 2005 – Signature of the Readmission Agreement between Albania and the European Community.
21 June 2003 – Thessaloniki Summit designs the perspective of Visa Liberalisation for the Western Balkan countries, including Albania.
Key documents of the Visa Liberalisation process with Albania
Readmission Agreement was part of the European policy for combating illegal immigration, adopted by the European Council. Such agreement involved reciprocal undertakings between the EU and Albania in the framework of co-operation over the return of illegal residents to their country of origin or transit.
Visa Facilitation Agreement (VFA) aimed at facilitating the movement of Albanian citizens towards countries of the EU. Main target of this agreement was the group of “agents of exchange”, which included members of official delegations, representatives of the business community, journalists, representatives of the civil society, pupils, students and university lecturers who travel for purposes of study and training, persons who participate in scientific, cultural and artistic activities, participants in international exhibitions, conferences, seminars, close relatives of migrants , spouses, children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and their children, persons involved in sports and tourists. The agreement intended to provide for:
- shortening the procedures for issuing a Schengen visa;
- keeping the visa processing fee at the amount of Euro 35 for all Albanian citizens and waiving this fee for specific categories;
- removing visa requirements for holders of diplomatic passports;
- the possibility of issuing long-term and multiple entry visas for categories of persons have frequent exchanges with the Schengen countries.
Roadmap towards visa free regime with Albania was the main strategic document between EU and Albania in the context of Visa Liberalisation. In this document were embedded 42 benchmarks, the fulfillment of which would have lead towards the lifting of visa regime. The 42 benchmarks were organised in 4 blocks:
1. Document security
2. Illegal migration including readmission
3. Public Order and Security
4. External Relations and fundamental rights
Readiness Reports submitted by Albanian Government:
First readiness report (September 2008)
Update report (12 January 2009)
Second readiness report (1 October 2009)
Updated second readiness reports (2 November 2009) and (16 November 2009)
Further measures, blocks 1 and 2 (29 January 2010)
Summary of achievements (February 2010)
Report on remaining benchmarks (25 June 2010)
The EC Assessment Reports on Albanian progress towards fulfillment of benchmarks embedded in the Roadmap towards visa free regime with Albania:
Assessment report – 24 November 2008
Assessment report – 18 May 2009
Assessments report – 27 November 2009
Assessments report – 19 April 2010
Assessment report on the fulfillment of the open benchmarks – 14 September 2010
Other actors monitoring, analysing, reporting such matters:
Balkan Trust for Democracy, German Marshal Fund
European Citizens Action Service
European Stability Initiative
Europe Without Barriers
Group 484 -Serbia
International Organization of Migration (IOM)
Center for Research and Policy Making (CRPM)
Delegation of the European Union in Albania
EU Justice ad Home Affairs Council
Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Albanian State Police