27 Oct 2014

Humanitarian Visas: Option or obligation?

Ulla Iben Jensen

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Third-country nationals seeking protection have no EU-wide legal channels at present for entering EU territory and triggering protection mechanisms under the Common European Asylum System. As a result, many embark on hazardous journeys, with concomitant risks and loss of human life. The absence of ‘protection-sensitive’ mechanisms for accessing EU territory, along with EU external and extraterritorial border and migration management and control, undermine Member States' refugee and human rights obligations. Humanitarian visas may offer a remedy in this regard by enabling third-country nationals to apply in situ for entry to EU territory on humanitarian grounds or because of international obligations. This study asks whether the existing Visa Code actually obliges Member States to issue humanitarian visas. It also examines past implementation of humanitarian visa schemes by Member States and considers whether more could be done to encourage them to make use of existing provisions in EU law. Finally, with a Commission proposal for Visa Code reform on the table, it asks whether there is now an opportunity to lay down clear rules for humanitarian visa schemes.

Ulla Iben Jensen, LLM, is a freelance legal researcher. This study was originally commissioned by the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) (www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2014/509986/IPOL_STU(2014)509986_EN.pdf). It is republished by the Centre for European Policy Studies with the kind permission of the European Parliament.