The Schengen group, or the Schengen area, includes the territories of the countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement. A particularity of the Schengen area is that although the external borders of this area are guarded with great care, control on internal ones is removed completely.
Safety in the Schengen area is guaranteed via the enhanced control of external borders, work in close cooperation among the border control services, police forces, and legal institutions of all Schengen Member States; the implementation of a common Schengen visa policy; and the functioning of the Schengen Information System.
For intended stays on the territory of the Member States of a duration of no more than 90 days in any 180-day period, which entails considering the 180-day period preceding each day of stay, the entry conditions for third-country nationals have to be in possession of a valid travel document entitling the holder to cross the border satisfying the following criteria:
- its validity shall extend at least three months after the intended date of departure from the territory of the Member States. In a justified case of emergency, this obligation may be waived;
- it shall have been issued within the previous 10 years.
The Schengen Enlargement
On December 6, 2007, the Council of Ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs of the European Union (EU) adopted the decision on the accession of nine new states — Lithuania, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Malta, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia — to the Schengen area. From December 21, 2007 these nine states abolished checks on persons at internal land borders and from March 30, 2008 - checks on persons at air borders within the Schengen area.
Today the Schengen area is composed of 26 states:
- 22 EU member states: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden;
- 4 non-EU states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. From December 12, 2008 Switzerland abolished checks on persons at internal land borders within the Schengen area and from March 29, 2009 will abolish check on persons at air borders within the Schengen area.
Citizens of the 26 states that belong to the Schengen area have equal rights to travel without visas and border control.
The EU Member States Ireland, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Cyprus and Romania do not belong to the Schengen group. The United Kingdom and Ireland still keep control on borders with other EU states (but they are committed to provide police and legal cooperation in criminal cases).
Free Movement of Persons
The Schengen policy allows the abolishing of border checks for the Schengen states, sets common rules for the control of external borders, prescribes a common visa policy, and overseas additional internal border control instruments for special cases (for police and legal cooperation in criminal cases).
There is no passport control on the internal borders of Schengen states. However, this does not mean, that travelling within the Schengen area is the same as travelling in one state and that no personal identity document is required. Representatives of legal institutions in any Schengen state are entitled to check the identity of a person staying in their territory according to the requirements of national legal acts. The laws of each member state prescribe whether a person must have personal identity documents with him or not.
Citizens of any EU state are entitled to travel throughout the EU for personal or business matters without restrictions only with a valid passport or personal identity card. EU citizen’s right to travel may be limited only taking into account considerations on public order, national security or public health.
Member states reserve the possibility to restore temporary border checks if any danger to national security or public order is suspected. Border control may also be temporarily restored during global sports events.
Strengthening of the external borders of the Schengen area involves both aspects: physical (implementation of new technologies and monitoring systems) and legal (the system of penalties for crossing a border illegally, a more rigorous visa policy, and a special regimen for entering the Schengen area).
The Schengen Information System (SIS) is an electronic database containing information about undesirable persons (criminals, illegal aliens, etc.), wanted persons, thefts (stolen identity cards, guns, and vehicles), etc.
The Schengen Agreement
The Schengen Agreement is the main document concerning the step-by-step abolishing of checks on internal borders. It was signed by five EU member states (Belgium, Germany, France, Luxemburg and the Netherlands) in 1985. More information can be found here.
The Schengen Convention, signed in 1990, is a document about the implementation of the agreement concluded in 1985, which eliminates control at internal borders of states that have signed the agreement, fixes common rules for the control at the external borders, and governs additional internal border control instruments in special cases. The Schengen Convention came into force in 1995; and in May 1999, when the Amsterdam Treaty came into force, the convention was included into the Acquis of the European Union.
Since then, the legal and institutional basis of the European Union has started to apply and develop the provisions of the Schengen Acquis. The Schengen Acquis is a set of intergovernmental rules applicable in Schengen states. The Schengen Acquis sets specific instruments that compensate for the elimination of checks at internal borders and enhance security of the external borders of the EU. Member States are required to ensure suitable and efficient control at external borders of the EU.
Common Visa Policy
Countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement apply a common visa policy. The Schengen group requires only one visa; this means that a person wishing to travel anywhere in the Schengen area needs to get only one visa. From the first day of Lithuania’s joining the Schengen group, institutions of the Republic of Lithuania started to issue Schengen visas and have the access to the Schengen Information System, including the system of Schengen visa inquiries — VIS mail.
Visa Regime for Citizens of third Countries
Short-term Visit (up to 90 days). Citizens of third countries may arrive at and travel around those states that apply Schengen provisions not longer than three months, if they meet all the requirements stated within the Schengen Acquis, i.e.:
- possess a valid travel document;
- possess a short-term visa, if required;
- can justify the purpose of their visit;
- can prove that they have sufficient means of subsistence, both for the period of the intended stay and for the return to their country;
- are not included into the Schengen Information System, as persons for whom an alert has been issued for the purposes of refusing entry, or persons who are considered to be a threat to public policy, or national security of any Schengen state.
Citizens of third countries who intend to stay longer than three months must obtain a long-term (D category) national visa, or a residence permit. Requirements for the receipt of national visas and residence permits are determined in national legal acts.
People That Have residence Permits Within the EU Do Not Need Visas
A valid residence permit issued by a Schengen Member State and a travel document are enough to go to another Schengen state for a short visit without a visa.
Residence permits issued by Ireland, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Cyprus and Romania do not give the right to travel to Schengen states without visas, since these countries do not apply the Schengen Acquis.
Where to Apply For a Schengen Visa?
Citizens of third states who intend to visit a Schengen state must address the diplomatic mission of that state to apply for visas. If a person intends to visit several Schengen states, the application must be submitted to the diplomatic mission of the member state that is considered to be the main destination of the trip. If a person intends to visit several Schengen states and it is not possible to determine which state is the main destination, he/she must submit the application to the diplomatic mission of the member state that will be visited first.
* Members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.