Coronavirus: Commission presents practical guidance on implementing the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU

covid airport

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


Today, the European Commission has issued guidance on the implementation of the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU. Together with guidance to ensure free movement of critical workers, this responds to requests made in the Statement of the Members of the European Council of 26 March 2020 to facilitate transit arrangements for repatriated citizens and seeks to address citizens’ and companies’ practical concerns about the measures taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus, as well as of national authorities implementing the measures.

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas said: “We can only succeed in successfully combatting this crisis if we work together. I welcome that almost all EU Member States are now implementing the restriction on travel into the EU. We are now providing additional guidance to make sure these are implemented all in the same way. The more uniform national actions are, the easier they will be for third-country nationals to understand and respect.”

Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said: “With the guidance adopted today, we want to ensure that all border guards at the EU’s external borders facilitate the return home of EU citizens stranded abroad and that persons with essential functions or needs are not stopped, while taking appropriate and proportionate measures ensuring public health and security.”

This guidance, which will assist border guards and visa authorities, provides advice on the implementation of the temporary restriction at the border, on facilitating transit arrangements for the repatriation of EU citizens, and on visa issues. It addresses issues that Member States raised in the bi-weekly videoconferences of Home Affairs Ministers and in technical meetings with Member States.

Implementation of the temporary travel restriction at the borders

Detailed practical guidance is provided for border authorities on key issues, such as:

  • Criteria for refusing entry: The restriction on non-essential travel to the EU applies to non-resident, non-EU nationals that present relevant symptoms or have been particularly exposed to risk of infection and are considered a threat to public health. Any decision on refusal of entry must be proportionate and non-discriminatory. To determine whether a traveller poses such a risk, border guards are invited to consult the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control guidance available here.
  • Exemptions: Nationals of all EU Member States and Schengen Associated Countries, and their family members, and non-EU nationals who are long-term residents in the EU are exempt from the temporary travel restriction for the purpose of returning home. Nationals of San Marino, Andorra, Monaco and Vatican/Holy See should be considered nationals of Member States to allow them to return home. Certain workers from outside the EU are also exempt, for example healthcare professionals, frontier workers, and seasonal agricultural workers.
  • Security: For travellers who are permitted entry, border authorities should strictly enforce the Schengen Borders Code. They should verify the authenticity of travel documents and national authorities must enforce systematic checks against the Schengen Information System to protect against potential terrorist threats or cross border criminality. Passports of non-EU nationals should be stamped.
  • Exit checks: Border authorities should provide information on the travel restriction and cases of concern should be referred immediately to the relevant health services. In case national border control resources are exhausted, Member States may give priority to entry checks over exit checks, to the extent possible without affecting national sanitary measures.

Transit and repatriation

Member States must facilitate onward transit of nationals of all EU Member States and Schengen Associated Countries, and their family members, irrespective of their nationality, as well as third country nationals holding a residence permit and their dependants who are returning to their Member State of nationality or residence.

Nationals of Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey should be treated in the same way when repatriated under the Union Civil Protection Mechanism since they are Participating States to the Mechanism.

Visa applications and overstay

Member States’ consulates should remain open and ensure minimum service for processing visa applications by travellers exempted from the temporary travel restrictions.

Non-EU travellers who have to stay in the EU longer than they are authorised to because of travel restrictions should not be penalised. For travellers currently present in the Schengen area on a short-stay visa who are compelled to stay longer than their visa allows them to, Member States may extend the visa up to a maximum stay of 90 days in any 180 days. In addition, Member States should issue a long-stay visa or a temporary residence permit to short-stay visa holders and those travelling visa-free who are compelled to stay beyond 90 days in any 180 days.

Member States are also encouraged to waive sanctions on non-EU travellers who would be unable to leave in time because of travel restrictions. Overstays linked to travel restrictions should not be taken into account when processing future visa applications.

For More Information

Guidance on the implementation of the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU and, on the facilitation of transit arrangements for the repatriation of EU citizens, and on the effects on visa policy

Joint statement of the Members of the European Council, 26 March 2020

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