Germany will ease its visa controls this year in a move expected to help thousands of people and companies from Russia and China seeking to do business in the European Union’s biggest economy.
‘I am pushing for a liberal visa policy which reflects Germany’s role in a globalized world,’ said foreign minister Guido Westerwelle.
The new rules are designed to simplify and speed up visa issuance by demanding fewer documents, making forms available on the internet and ensuring decisions are made within 72 hours.
Some of the administration will be outsourced and individuals, especially business people, will no longer be required to appear in front of German authorities in person.
This is of particular importance in large countries like Russia where individuals have to travel long distances at great expense for a meeting at a German consulate.
China and Russia have for years complained that Germany’s visa rules, which experts say are tighter than other EU states’, are too restrictive. The issue came up at talks between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chancellor Angela Merkel in July.
Westerwelle stressed national security would not be compromised.
‘This in no way contradicts our security interests,’ he told Reuters.
The influential East Committee for the German Economy, which boosts business ties between Germany and eastern Europe and Russia, has also called for a relaxation of what they describe as out of date controls.
‘Biometric passports are by far the most suitable way to control people entering the country,’ said Rainer Lindner, head of the committee, adding that Germany currently has the tightest rules within the EU’s Schengen area.
According to a Committee study, visa controls between the EU and eastern neighbours such as the Ukraine and Russia cost the European economy and taxpayers hundreds of millions of euros.
Trade between Germany and Russia could surpass a record of $70 billion this year, Medvedev said in November. Russia and the EU are also working on moves toward visa free travel.