The European Commission has adopted a new set of rules that enable Indian, Saudi, Bahraini, and Omani nationals to obtain short-stay Schengen visas with longer validity periods. Under the new rules, Indian nationals may be eligible for two- and five-year multiple entry visas, based on their travel history. Saudi, Bahraini, and Omani nationals residing in their respective home countries are now eligible for five-year multiple entry visas. The expansion of visa validity periods reflects the EU’s determination that these nationals pose low migratory and security risks. The moves are expected to facilitate travel to Europe by reducing the frequency with which qualified nationals must apply for new short-stay visas.  

A “Cascade” Approach to Visa Validity

The Schengen Area is a free movement zone comprised of twenty-nine European countries that have agreed to function as a single jurisdiction for purposes of passport and border controls. The free movement zone includes 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. EU members Bulgaria and Romania have lifted air and sea borders with the rest of the Schengen zone but maintain land border controls.

Under the EU’s newly adopted visa “cascade” regime for India, Indian nationals can now be issued long-term, multi-entry Schengen visas valid for two years after having obtained and lawfully used two visas within the previous three years. The two-year visa may now be followed by a five-year visa if the applicant’s passport has sufficient validity remaining.

Moreover, all Saudi nationals residing in Saudi Arabia are now eligible for a five-year multiple entry Schengen visa, regardless of whether they are first-time applicants or have held a Schengen visa before. The new rules likewise allow five-year multiple-entry visas to be issued to Bahraini citizens residing in Bahrain and Omani citizens residing in Oman who meet the requirements and conditions for issuing a short-stay visa. During the validity period of these visas, holders enjoy travel rights equivalent to visa-free nationals.

The EU’s more liberal visa rules for Indian, Saudi, Bahraini, and Omani nationals come as the bloc 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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