The European Commission said on 18 October it intends to respond "more swiftly and decisively" to challenges citizenship by investment schemes by closing the door to visa-free travel to the Schengen area.

In a statement, the EC said it would "expand the grounds to suspend visa-free regimes, such as in case of insufficient alignment with the EU's visa policy, hybrid threats and the operation of investor citizenship schemes".

On the one hand, it argued, visa-free travel brings significant economic, social, and cultural benefits and boosts travel and the tourism sector. It has benefits to EU Member States and partner countries. Visa policy is also an important tool in the EU's engagement with partner countries.

But it also highlighted that "the evolving geopolitical context has brought new challenges linked to visa-free travel. Therefore, it is crucial that the EU is well equipped to address situations of abuse of visa-free travel; for instance, increased irregular arrivals due to the lack of alignment with the EU's visa policy, investors citizenship schemes in visa-free countries, or hybrid threats, such as state-sponsored instrumentalisation of migrants".

In order to respond more swiftly and decisively to these challenges, the Commission proposed a revision of the current visa suspension mechanism. It said the proposal delivers on President von der Leyen's commitment ahead of to the European Council on 20 March 2023 to strengthen the visa suspension mechanism and the monitoring of visa-free countries.

The proposal is accompanied by the sixth report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism.

Currently, the mechanism can only be triggered in specific cases, for instance sudden and substantial increase in irregular migration, or security risks.

The proposed revision will:

  • Expand the grounds to suspend visa-free regimes, such as in case of insufficient alignment with the EU's visa policy, hybrid threats and the operation of investor citizenship schemes;
  • Increase the duration of the current procedure to allow more time for remedial actions. A new urgency procedure is introduced to react faster in case of need, such as high increase in arrivals or security threats.
  • Strengthen the Commission's monitoring and reporting obligations to any visa free countries where challenges are identified.
    II. Sixth report under the Visa Suspension Mechanism

Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life said: "Visa-free travel is an essential element to facilitate people-to-people contacts and strengthen business, social and cultural ties between EU and partner countries. Maintaining this achievement and extending it to more countries, however, requires constant vigilance. This is why today we are proposing a stronger mechanism that will equip us with the means to quickly counter any abuses of visa-free travel, particularly when these lead to irregular migration or security risks for the EU.

Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs said: "Visa-free travel between the EU and its partner countries around the world is a significant achievement. The lifting of visa requirements facilitates mobility and people-to-people contacts and is an incentive for key policy reforms. Nevertheless, there are emerging challenges related to visa-free travel that we need to be ready to address. This is why we need to reinforce our monitoring of the EU visa-free regimes and to have a stronger Visa Suspension Mechanism."

Since 2017, the Commission has been issuing annual reports under the Visa Suspension Mechanism. The sixth report covers the countries having a visa liberalisation dialogue from Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership, as well as countries in the Pacific and the Caribbean which have investor citizenship schemes in place.

The report concludes that all eight countries need to take further action to align their visa policy with the EU's and continue their efforts to prevent unfounded asylum applications. Further efforts are also needed in the prevention of irregular migration as well as in the fight against organised crime and corruption.

The report also highlights the Commission's concerns about investor citizenship schemes that are promoting visa-free access to the EU.  

The Commission further said it will continue implementing the new comprehensive monitoring approach announced in its Communication from May 2023, covering all visa-free third countries. Based on the outcome of that monitoring process, the Commission would continue to report on visa-free third countries in relation to migratory and security challenges.

The Commission's proposal to revise the Visa Suspension Mechanism will now be negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council.

It will continue to report to the European Parliament and the Council at least once a year. The monitoring of aspects related to the visa liberalisation requirements will also continue being included in the Commission's annual enlargement package and, where relevant, EU accession negotiations.

The EU currently has a visa-free regime with 60 non-EU countries. Nationals of these countries can enter the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. The Visa Suspension Mechanism was introduced in 2013 with the main purpose to enable a temporary suspension of the visa exemption in case of a sudden and substantial increase in irregular migration. The mechanism was subsequently revised in 2017 by making it easier for Member States to notify circumstances leading to a possible suspension and by enabling the Commission to trigger the suspension mechanism on its own initiative.

The Commission can also trigger the mechanism in case certain requirements are no longer met as regards the fulfilment of the visa liberalisation benchmarks by countries that have gone through a visa liberalisation dialogue.