The EU has changed the rules for short-term visas. After a decade, the European Commission says a change was long overdue. However, many African would-be travelers may now find it even more difficult to visit Europe.
Whether you're visiting relatives, performing at a concert or attending a conference: If you come from Africa and want to spend a short amount of time in Europe, you'd normally apply for a so-called Schengen visa.
The popular short-stay visa is valid in 26 European countries for up to three months. In 2019 alone, European Union (EU) member states issued over 15 million of these visas. They received almost 17 million applications in total -- up significantly from 10 years ago when they received just over 10 million.
The rules on who gets a visa and how the application process works were decided by the EU a decade ago.
According to the EU, the rules are long overdue for an update: "Our procedures for visa applications have not changed since 2010 and we just needed to update them to make them less cumbersome, but keep the same level of security," EU spokesman Adalbert Jahnz told DW.
The new rules were put into practice in February. For some applicants, it's good news: They can now apply for the visa six months before the start of their trip instead of three.
According to information provided by the EU, the process for applying for multiple visas is now also simpler. Travelers can enter the EU multiple times over a period of up to five years. Applications are no longer just made on paper, but also electronically.
"On the one hand, the new regulations make it easier for applicants from Africa," Nigerian migration expert Amanda Bisong told DW. But visas are also becoming more expensive: Instead of the usual €60 ($65), applicants are now expected to fork out €80 . "We might see these rates going up higher, especially if the mechanism that links return and readmission of nationals is activated."
EU member states accuse some African countries of repeatedly delaying these so-called withdrawals -- for example, by not issuing the necessary travel documents. Whenever Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the continent, this topic is almost always on the agenda.
The new visa rules give countries such as Germany more leverage. The EU Commission is planning to conduct regular surveys to assess how cooperative individual African countries are. If the assessment is negative, nationals from these countries will likely face issues. The EU has threatened longer application processes, further increasing fees, or limiting the validity of visas.
"It is important to recall that any more restrictive implementation of certain procedures will not call into question the basic possibility for people to submit an application or to be granted a visa," EU spokesman Jahnz explained.
But the EU is also dangling a carrot for prospective applicants: If you do your homework on the visa application process properly, you'll be rewarded with lower fees, or a faster process.
But what does this mean for the individual applicant? "There's a high likelihood that business people, artists and members of the political elite will continue to get visas, because it's in Europe's interest to continue to maintain this political-economic exchange," migration researcher Jochen Oltmer told DW.
"But for those who are less important from the point of view of European interests, the hurdles are likely to be significantly higher."
It's not yet clear whether African governments are giving in to pressure from Brussels. "Domestic interests in some countries may prevent these states from cooperating fully with the EU," explained Bisong. "So in states that are largely dependent on remittances from migrants within the EU territory, it will be difficult to align their cooperation with the EU with domestic interests."
In 2019, the remittance flow to Africa was $48 billion. Many illegal migrants also regularly send money to their families back home.
In addition, African governments are not always good at negotiating with European partners: "It is important for African governments that the EU adheres to various bilateral and multilateral agreements," said Bisong. "If the EU does not meet certain commitments, from an African perspective this is perceived as a lack of cooperation, so interest in cooperating on the issue of remittances also becomes low."
So, this new leverage may ultimately be ineffective -- while still making it more difficult for African travelers to visit Europe.