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Europe's Short-Term Visas Target the Wrong Countries

Europe’s Short-Term Visas Target the Wrong Countries

In 2014, 14,120 Serbs – who don’t have to apply for short-term visas — were apprehended for being in the EU illegally, almost as many as Turkish and Chinese nationals combined.

The number of Georgians caught reached 8 percent of the number of visas issued in that country, and Georgia is likely to be granted visa-free status this year — along with Ukraine, which supplied 60 percent more undocumented immigrants to the EU in 2014 than Russia.

The logic behind this has nothing to do with curbing irregular migration. It’s purely political. Many of Europe’s criteria for a visa-free regime with a non-member country have to do with the Europeanization of those countries’ domestic rules: They demand, for example, strong anti-discrimination and anti-corruption laws.

It’s a mechanism of European “soft power”: If a government wants to offer its citizens hassle-free travel to Paris and Rome, it needs to adopt certain European values.

Russia and China either won’t comply with these requirements or will only pay lip service to them, so they’re not likely to have the visa requirement waived.

Georgia, Serbia and Moldova are more likely to attempt to meet the political demands, the latter two countries’ citizens can already travel visa-free, and Georgians will soon get to do so, too.

The political logic is deeply flawed. It’s the citizens of the least European countries who most need exposure to Europe, its ways and values. The more they see of the free world, the more they are likely to want similar rules at home.

Turks who can go freely to Europe and back may soon be unwilling to tolerate Erdogan’s authoritarianism, and his illiberal laws may be struck down.

Erecting barriers for them, on the contrary, alienates them and makes Europeans look surly and unwelcoming.

The refugee deal with Turkey, which has already forced European bureaucrats to move faster than intended on vise liberalization, should prompt the EU to abandon visa liberalization as a political tool and only maintain the visa requirement for countries whose citizens present a serious risk of overstaying, such as Afghanistan or Eritrea. Everybody else should be free to visit, Turks included.

Read more: Bloomberg