The announcement Saturday by Spanish President Mariano Rajoy that he would petition the European Union to lift the tourist visa requirements for Colombians and Peruvians has been warmly received in both nations. Currently Colombians and Peruvians must apply for a Schengen visa to enter the 26 nations of the European Union – except Switzerland and the United Kingdom – which issue their own non-immigrant visas.
Praising the important changes taking place within Colombia, President Rajoy highlighted improved security, direct foreign investment and good governance as reasons to petition the Commission of the E.U so that Colombians can enter Europe for up to three months, without having to embark on a trail of paperwork and interviews.
Any changes to the current visa rules of Colombians under the Schengen treaty would only take place after May 2014. According to the European Union: “Given the important relationship between Spain, Colombia and Peru, the request by President Rajoy carries its weight and will be studied carefully by the European Commission.”
Spain’s Ambassador to Colombia Nicolás Martín made a statement on Blu Radio regarding the contentious visa issue saying: “we find it discriminatory that Colombians and Peruvians need visas.”
Currently citizens of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Paraguay are free to enter the European Union without visas. President Rajoy will submit his visa elimination proposal on September 23rd to the Commission; and which then, must be approved by the governments of the Schengen member states. Ambassador Martín also remarked that his government will “give it their best” to lift the visa policy.
In a move which can only boost tourism between Colombia and Spain, the announcement of the possible lifting comes a week after the European Union signed into effect a Free Trade agreement with Colombia. The Spanish government also aspires to become an active observer and participant of the Pacific Alliance currently composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Due to the importance of the Pacific Alliance, Mexico moved ahead with abolishing their visa requirements for Colombians last year.
During the last several years, 31 nations outside Schengen have eased or eliminated visa regulations with Colombia. The government of Turkey and Russia opened their borders last year to Colombian visitors.
The United States – after a visit by President Barack Obama to the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena – announced the concession of 10 year-validity visas for Colombians for the purposes of tourism and business stateside. Important news which was also heralded as an endorsement of U.S – Colombia relations after a trade pact was signed in 2012.
But it wasn’t always this way. Until March 2001, Colombians could enter Europe like other citizens from around the world. Then the Interior Ministers of the E.U drew up a list of 132 nations which would require visas and Colombia was added to the list. The move sparked outrage from Colombians given a 500 year history between the continent and the Old World. Intellectuals such as Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Marquez, painter Fernando Botero and author Alvaro Mutis protested with a letter claiming that as long as visas were imposed on their fellow citizens they would not step on Spanish soil.
The Schengen visa has, since 2001, affected tens of thousands of Colombian families who have relatives living in Europe and is so much more than a laminated stamp in a passport. Besides the exhausting task of accumulating bank statements, proof of income, health and housing payments, Colombians must also buy expensive overseas Health Insurance plans to cover the cost of sickness or accident, added to the cost of transportation and the 80 Euro Schengen.
While nations near and far have begun lifting impersonal visa requirements for Colombians, some nations such as Canada continue to scrutinize tourism applicants with long wait times (10 days or more), no face-to-face interviews, or the possibility of being in possession of one’s passport in case of having to travel in an emergency to a country other than the ‘Great White North.’ The United Kingdom which does not abide by the Schengen treaty has speeded up its visa processing times to 3 days and has always given Colombians the benefit of a one-on-one interview.
While Colombians can travel freely to Samoa and Israel, without the possibility of direct flights, one is often at the mercy of transit nations to provide the proper visa documentation. The Spanish government believes France and Germany will support their moves with the European Union.
President Rajoy’s initiative is an important step for Colombia – Spain relations. It will undoubtedly make the Iberian nation and its hubs Madrid and Barcelona more attractive as a major gateway for air travel within Europe and beyond; and shows that a humane approach to the treatment of citizens is possible on both sides of the Atlantic.