On 11 May 2016, the European Parliament adopted the new Visa Directive that sets the conditions for how non-EU nationals can come into the European Union for research, studies, pupil exchange, training, volunteering or au-pairing.
Exchange students (called “pupils” in the Directive) and other volunteers will be “optional categories”, meaning that each EU Member State will decide whether to apply the provisions of the Directive to these categories too.
Now, EU Member States have two years to adopt national laws and regulations that comply with the Directive.
No significant improvements for pupils
First of all: the new Visa Directive will be mandatory only for university students, researchers, and EVS volunteers. EU Member States will decide whether to apply the provisions of the Directive also to exchange students (“pupils”) and other volunteers.
In comparison with the current 2004 Visa Directive, the new version will bring improvements for university students and researchers (such as the right to move within the EU for study and research, the right to family reunification, the right to work while studying, etc.), but only very small advances for exchange students and other categories.
A few good provisions can facilitate entry and stay in the EU
- The period of validity of an authorisation for exchange students shall be of equal duration to the exchange scheme.
- If an address has to be provided at the time of the visa application, Member States shall accept a temporary address.
- Exchange students shall be entitled to equal treatment in relation to access to and supply of goods and services made available to the public in the country where they are.
- The written notification of the result of the visa application shall specify the court or administrative authority with which an appeal may be lodged and the time-limit for lodging the appeal.
- Member States may decide to put in place an approval procedure for education institutions, education establishments, and exchange organisations. Approved entities will have access to a faster visa procedure.
Delays, fees, and the reciprocity principle may still hinder mobility
- Member States may require the applicant to present documentary evidence in an official language of the Member State This implies an administrative burden to help with translations and definitely represents an obstacle for those who do not speak (yet) the language of the country where they are going to.
- Member States may limit the admission of exchange students participating in an exchange scheme or educational project to nationals of third countries which offer the same possibility for their own nationals. This means that the principle of reciprocity will apply!
- A decision on the application shall be adopted not later than 90 days from the date on which the complete application was submitted, but in case the admission procedure is related to an approved host entity, the decision shall be taken within 60 days. Delays remain long: this is a step back in comparison with the proposal initially tabled by the Parliament.
- The level of visa fees shall not be disproportionate or excessive. This does not improve the current situation, since each Member State will give its own interpretation of what is proportionate.
- Member States will have the right to determine the volumes of admission of third-country nationals, with the exception of students, if they are considered to be in an employment relationship. Volunteers (as well as researchers and trainees) could be subjected to immigration quotas as other categories of employees.
Member States have two years to transpose the Directive
From now on, follow-up and lobby can be done only at the national level. EU Member States have two years to adopt national laws and regulations that comply with the Directive.
During this time, EEE-YFU and its member organisations will make sure the voice secondary school students in heard at the national level, in order to:
- call for the application of favourable provisions included in the Directive also to “pupils”, even though they are an optional category;
- monitor how Member States put in place the approval procedure for host entities, so to make sure that the procedure is clear, transparent, and based on quality criteria.