EU to ease visa procedure for Indonesians

In an attempt to boost tourism and job creation, the European Union (EU) is considering a proposal to make it easier for non-EU nationals, including Indonesians, to enter the 26 countries in the Schengen area.

While security will be maintained at current levels, the EU claims the move will "seriously shorten" the visa application process and, thus, expedite entry for nationals from top visa-applicant countries, such as Indonesia.

"Despite respecting the need for border control, it is my ambition to open the [European] region to your fellow countrymen," Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, told visiting reporters in Brussels, Belgium, recently.

The European Commission (EC), an executive body of the EU responsible for proposing legislation, will put forward changes to the current Schengen visa policy, with the amendments including expediting the visa application process and scrapping the obligatory travel medical insurance.

At the moment, Indonesians wanting to apply for a Schengen visa - a single visa that allows the holder to travel freely among the 26 member countries - are required to provide medical travel insurance with minimum coverage of ¤30,000 (S$51,000), while the application process takes up to 15 days.

No medical travel insurance will be needed when applying for the new Schengen visa, and the issuance process will be shortened to a maximum of 10 days.

In addition, Indonesians will soon be able to apply for the visa up to six months before their intended trips - the current requirement is three months at the earliest - to allow them to plan further ahead and avoid peak seasons.

If approved, the proposal is expected to be passed by the European Parliament in 2015 at the earliest.

The EC has noted that at least 6.6 million potential foreign tourists have been lost due to the EU's current cumbersome visa application process.

"If so many people are discouraged from entering Europe, there is something wrong," the Swedish politician went on. "We need more tourists, we need more travelers, we need people to come to our continent. That could bring more jobs and could help grow the economy."

For the 26 Schengen member states in Europe, the more flexible visa rule could result in as much as ¤130 billion in direct spending within the next five years in the form of accommodations, food, transportation, entertainment and shopping.

It would also ultimately generate around 1.3 million additional jobs in the region's tourist sector, according to the EC.

"Tourism is Europe's growth engine and has been the most important stronghold of the European economy during the recent crisis," added Antonio Tanjani, the EC's vice president for industry and entrepreneurship.

"Our proposal will help European tourism at a time when international competition is becoming increasingly fierce, with a growing number of countries relying on tourism as a factor for growth."

Indonesia is in the top 15 countries that make the most Schengen visa applications, with EU data showing that 141,976 applications came from Indonesia in 2012.

Most of the applicants, or 66 per cent, applied for a single-entry visa, while the remainder applied for multiple-entry visas, allowing multiple stays in one or more Schengen countries up to a maximum period of a year.

Indonesia's refusal rate, which indicates the number of visa requests that were lodged but rejected, stands at a mere 1.6 per cent, considerably lower than the rates for Thailand (6.1 per cent), India (6.1 per cent) and China (4.2 per cent).