As of March 2024, the Schengen Area will partially expand through the lifting of air and sea border controls with Bulgaria and Romania. This marks the ninth expansion of the free movement zone, which most recently added Croatia in January 2023. Land border controls with Bulgaria and Romania will remain in place for the time being and the two countries will continue issuing national entry visas rather than Schengen visas. In announcing the expansion, the European Commission – the executive arm of the European Union – emphasized that discussions on lifting land border controls will continue in 2024.
Background: Schengen Expansion
The Schengen Area is a free movement zone currently comprised of twenty-seven European countries that have agreed to function as a single jurisdiction for purposes of passport and border controls. With Bulgaria and Romania’s partial addition to the Schengen Area, the bloc will grow to 4.5 million square kilometers with a population of 450 million people. The free movement zone will now include all EU member states except Ireland and Cyprus. Non-EU member states – namely Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein – are also part of the Schengen Area. Bulgaria and Romania had applied for admission to the Schengen Area at the same time as Croatia, but until December 2023 the two countries had not received the required unanimous support from the council for at least partial admission.
This further expansion of the Schengen Area comes as the EU moves toward digitalizing Schengen visas, the short-stay visas issued by Schengen member states that allow non-Schengen nationals to move about the Schengen Area without being subject to additional border controls. It also comes as the EU gears up for the expected launch of an electronic visa waiver program for the Schengen Area in 2025.
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