What is the Schengen Agreement?
The Schengen Agreement is landmark multilateral treaty allowing free travel within and across its Member States. The 26 European countries comprising the resulting Schengen Area have removed border control for travelers crossing between them and share a common visa policy.
Schengen Agreement history
Grounded in the principle of free movement, the Schengen Agreement grew out of a collective desire to ease travel restrictions for Europeans seeking to live, work and journey throughout the continent and its island states. The abolishment of border controls would allow Europeans to move freely and without restrictions, increasing business and trade within and across the Member States while raising quality of life for millions.
Despite widespread acceptance of the treaty in principle, the movement to abolish border controls between European states almost immediately ran into practical difficulties given the enormity of the task, the number of countries involved, and its technical aspects. Despite these and other difficulties, on June 14th, 1985, diplomatic efforts produced a treaty proposing the tentative abolishment of border controls; the Schengen Agreement. Signed outside the village of Schengen, Luxembourg, the Schengen Agreement took several decades to come into effect. Initially signed by five member states, including Belgium, France, Germany (at the time West Germany), Luxembourg and the Netherlands, its original signatories were joined by 20 additional parties to the treaty over the following decades. The Schengen Agreement was expanded in 1990 with the Schengen Convention, which advanced a common visa policy, and finally became effective in 1995, across its seven Member States. Nine years later, the agreement became a part of European Union law; today, the relationship between the E.U. and the Schengen Area is incredibly close, with Europe’s foremost representative body adopting Schengen law as a fundamental source of its governing rules.
Schengen Agreement today
Over 400,000,000 people live within the Schengen area today, which covers 4,312,099 square kilometers.
Today, only four European Union countries remain outside the Schengen area. These four states, however, are legally bound to becoming future parties to the agreement (and indeed are already in the process of joining). These are: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania. On the other hand, there are four non-European Union countries that are part of the Schengen area: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland.
Despite its commitment to open borders for Member States, the Schengen Agreement temporary suspension rule allows for the reintroduction of border controls within a Schengen country for a period not exceeding 30 days. However, this temporary exception is to be invoked only in exceptional cases involving a serious threat to a country’s national security or public policy. Additionally, the European Parliament and the European Commission, as well as the general public, must be informed, should a country take such an atypical step.
Schengen Agreement country list
The following countries are Schengen Agreement Member States collectively comprising the Schengen Area (listed alphabetically):
3. Czech Republic
- All the Schengen states are located in mainland Europe, with the exception of Iceland and Malta.
- Because the microstates Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City are landlocked European countries located within the territories of Schengen Member states, they are de facto part of the Schengen Area, if not technically parties to the agreement.
How does the Schengen Agreement work?
The Schengen Agreement eliminates internal border controls within and across the Schengen area, meaning that in most cases, once you gain legal entry to one Schengen country, you have by extension gained access to the entire area; all 26 countries. However, because of the absence of internal border controls, there are restrictions limiting access to the Schengen area. In practical terms this means the following:
- If you are a citizen of one Schengen state, you do not need a visa in order to enter any other Schengen state.
- If you are a citizen of one of the listed below non-visa free countries, you will need to apply for a visa in order to enter the Schengen area.
- If you are a citizen of one of the listed below visa-free countries, you will not need a visa to enter the Schengen area.
Schengen Agreement visa-free countries
The following countries are not Schengen Agreement states, but its citizens do NOT need a visa to enter the Schengen area:
31. Republic of Moldova
2. Antigua and Barbuda
33. New Zealand
7. Bosnia and Herzegovina
9. Brunei Darussalam
39. Saint Kitts and Nevis
40. Saint Lucia
41. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
13. Costa Rica
15. El Salvador
46. Solomon Islands
47. South Korea
20. Hong Kong
51. Trinidad and Tobago
54. United Arab Emirates
25. Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
55. United Kingdom
56. United States of America
27. Marshall Islands
Also not required to apply for a visa: British nationals (Overseas), British overseas territories citizens (BOTC), British overseas citizens (BOC), British protected persons (BPP) and British subjects (BS).
Schengen Agreement non-visa free countries
Citizens of the following countries will need to obtain a Schengen visa to enter the Schengen area:
14. BURKINA FASO
19. CAPE VERDE
71. NORTH KOREA
20. CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
74. PAPUA NEW GUINEA
25. COTE D’IVOIRE
27. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
79. SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE
80. SAUDI ARABIA
29. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
82. SIERRA LEONE
32. EQUATORIAL GUINEA
84. SOUTH AFRICA
85. SOUTH SUDAN
86. SRI LANKA
Third party nationals from the following entities/territories are also required to apply for a Schengen visa: KOSOVO and the PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY.
Schengen Agreement positives and negatives
Perhaps you noticed that the list of visa-free countries for the Schengen Area is almost exclusively rich countries located in the global north. Because the Schengen Agreement immigration policy restricts access to poor countries and welcomes rich countries, critics of the agreement argue that its principle of visa free travel only extends to those countries under the Schengen visa agreement, which therefore marginalizes poor/unstable countries primarily located in Asia, the Middle East, and African. It’s true that the Schengen agreement has problems. One of the Schengen Agreement disadvantages is that its benefits are reserved for citizens of member states, for whom travel opportunities and freedom have expanded at the expense of non-Schengen states, particularly those located in the global south. In contrast, proponents of the Schengen Agreement would argue that its most controversial aspect-its exclusiveness- has increased security for the millions of people living inside the area by reducing access to individuals from certain countries.
Some critics might argue that the Schengen Agreement is not exclusive enough. For proponents of this belief, the Schengen Agreement is perhaps overly welcoming to those who would seek to abuse its open-door policy by overstaying their visas to seek residency, or even commit crimes. The ongoing migrant crisis has been a constant test to the Schengen Agreement, as desperate migrants and refugees fleeing economic and political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa have crossed the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe.
Despite these valid criticisms of the Schengen area, the Schengen Agreement importance lies in its upholding of the principle of free travel. The agreement has increased travel opportunities and personal happiness for millions of Europeans. The reduction of border controls has increased economic cooperation and removed impediments to scientific and academic research and collaboration, resulting in a diffusion of knowledge not just limited to Europe, but benefiting the entire world.