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I am not sure how to properly search for this question as I can't get too relevant results so I am asking here.

Suppose, for example, that France plans to develop close collaboration with India, and as part of the collaboration, wants to allow all Indian citizens visa-free access to France for short tourism and business stay. My question is, can France just do it? Since there is no internal border within the Schengen area, the policy would effectively allow Indian citizens visa-free access to every Schengen country.

As another example, currently Serbia allows visa-free access from India and it is in the process of joining EU. In the case that it is successful, will it be forced to change its visa-free policy if it also wants to join the Schengen area, given that other countries in the Schengen area are not ready to give visa-free access to India?

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  • This is more worth for Law SE, not travel Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 12:35
  • Serbia is joining EU, not Schengen, so they are still enabled to enforce their visa laws independently. Indeed, in the event that Serbia will start the process of joining Schengen, visa rules must be sorted out Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 12:37
  • AIUI unless they negotiate an opt-out (like the UK and Ireland did) then theoretically countries joining the EU are also required to Join Schengen. In practice though, that hasn't always happened. Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 18:52

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Not really, no. The Schengen acquis includes commitments that the countries "shall endeavour to approximate their visa policies as soon as possible in order to avoid the adverse consequences in the field of immigration and security that may result from easing checks at the common borders." For several decades, this process has meant that the European Commission publishes lists as EU regulations—Annex I and Annex II—"listing the third countries whose nationals must be in possession of visas when crossing the external borders and those whose nationals are exempt from that requirement." The regulation provides that "Nationals of third countries listed in Annex I shall be required to be in possession of a visa when crossing the external borders of the Member States." Since India is an Annex I country, France would violate the regulation if they allowed Indian citizens to enter without a visa.

If a country did do this anyway—they are ultimately in control of their own border guards—it could cause neighboring countries to introduce border checks or generally create a diplomatic incident, just the same as if any EU state violated any other EU regulation to the possible detriment of its neighbors.

Such a move would also present practical problems for travelers. If France unilaterally allowed Indian citizens visa-free access to France, then an Indian citizen flying directly from Delhi to Paris would be admitted, but an Indian citizen flying from Mumbai to Frankfurt to Paris would be denied entry in Germany.

That said, there are some related exceptions. For example, EU regulations allow countries to enter into agreements to issue local border traffic permits with neighboring countries, but this is more akin to a special limited type of visa than visa-free entry. Schengen states are also able to enter into bilateral agreements with other countries to provide more generous terms: some countries allow citizens of some countries to stay longer than the usual 90-in-180 days rule. Other aspects of visa policy are not fully harmonized: different Schengen countries have different visa policies around refugees, for holders of diplomatic, official and service passports, and some Schengen countries have more restrictive policies for transiting their airports without visas. Various other allowances for member states to make their own visa exceptions are listed in Article 6, such as for air and sea crew, disaster response personnel, students on certain school trips, NATO personnel, etc...

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    This use of the word "approximate" stinks of Euro English, but I can't find it in this list, so I'm not 100% sure what it's intended to mean.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 9:42
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    @Kevin I imagine it's meant in the verb sense of "to bring near or close," as in the Schengen states agreed to make their visa policies close to each other as soon as possible. Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 9:59
  • Aren't all exceptions from the 90/180 days rule based on national agreements which are predating the Schengen agreement? I would doubt that Schengen members are allowed to enter into new agreements of that kind, but they may of course loosen or simplify the requirements for national long-term visas for certain citizens, de facto achieving the same result. Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 12:13
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    @Kevin Since the Schengen acquis initially was between France, Germany and the Benelux states, I assume is simply a mediocre translation of the original agreement. The German version uses "anzunähern", which in this context would mean "get closer" in the sense of "make more similar", but is less strong than unify (this would be "vereinheitlichen"), so I suspect there is simple not a single english word with the same meaning. I suspect the Dutch and French versions are similar.
    – mlk
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 12:50
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    @mlk: English would favor "converge" or "harmonize" in this usage. "Approximate" usually implies numerical approximation, although I suppose it could also be used in a geometric sense. But using it in a legal or diplomatic sense feels very weird to me.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 19:35

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