12 September 2014

A new study commissioned by the European Parliament identifies inconsistencies and shortcomings in the existing Visa Code that undermines one of the aims of the instrument, i.e. ensuring that Member States meet their humanitarian and fundamental rights obligations by issuing visas to the most vulnerable protection seekers. According to the report, the reform process launched by the Commission proposal to review the Visa Code offers an opportunity to remedy these flaws to ensure that the most vulnerable are able to access the EU territory in a safe and legal way.

The study underlines that although Member States have implemented a variety of humanitarian visa schemes, they are reluctant to support EU initiatives to develop common guidelines and procedures for the issuing of humanitarian visas as a way to provide safe and legal access to the territory. 

Although there is no reliable and up-to-date overview of existing practice, according to the study, 16 EU Member States (Belgium, Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland, UK, Finland, Malta, Portugal, Austria, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands) currently have or have previously had schemes for issuing humanitarian visas, be they national uniform Schengen and/or with limited territorial validity, i.e. valid in one or more but not all Schengen States.

As the Visa Code is currently under review, the study recommends that the European Parliament call for more consistent provisions on humanitarian visas as well as an independent formal procedure for the lodging and processing of applications for humanitarian Schengen visas.

As EU law does not provide for ways to facilitate the arrival of asylum seekers and as potential asylum seekers often do not qualify for an ordinary visa, they may have to cross the border in an irregular manner. Humanitarian visas are designed to provide safe and legal access to the territory to bona fide protection seekers and constitute a legal alternative to irregular migration channels. In order to apply for a humanitarian visa, the third-country national must approach the diplomatic representation of the potential host State. The diplomatic representation may process the humanitarian visa application in-country to identify protection needs. Once a humanitarian visa has been issued and the migrant has entered the territory of the destination State, he/she may lodge an application for international protection and the asylum procedure is then conducted within the territory of that State.

The study was drawn up by the Policy Department C: Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 12 September 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.