European Visa Regulations

Twenty-two European Union member states are part of the Schengen Area and have a uniform visa policy. In addition, four countries outside the European Union - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland - adopt the same uniform visa policy as they are also part of the Schengen Area.

Four EU member states — Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania — are not yet part of the Schengen Area, but nonetheless have a visa policy that is based on the Schengen acquis.

Two EU member states — Ireland and the United Kingdom — are not part of the Schengen Area, instead operating a travel zone known as the Common Travel Area. The two countries each operate separate visa policies which are different from that of the Schengen Area.

Citizens of all European Economic Area member states (EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) and Switzerland are not only visa-exempt, but are legally entitled to enter and reside in each other's countries. Their right to the freedom of movement in each other's countries can, however, be limited in a small number of situations.

The Schengen Agreement

The name "Schengen" originates from a small town in Luxembourg. In June 1985, seven European Union countries signed a treaty to end internal border checkpoints and controls. More countries have joined the treaty over the past years. At present, there are 15 Schengen countries, all in Europe: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. All these countries except Norway and Iceland are European Union members.

The European Council of December 2006 welcomed the prospect of internal border controls being abolished as of December 2007 (land and sea borders) and by March 2008 (air borders) at the latest, provided all the conditions for application of the Schengen acquis have been met. This enlargement should concern nine new EU Member States (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia).

Conditions of admission of third-country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service
One of the objectives of Community action in the field of education is to promote Europe as a world centre of excellence for studies and vocational training. Promoting the mobility of third-country nationals to the Community for the purpose of studies is a key factor in that strategy. The approximation of the Member States' national legislation on conditions of entry and residence is part of this.

This Schengen Directive determines the rules concerning the procedures for admitting third country nationals to the territory of the Member States, for a period exceeding three months for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service.

The Directive distinguishes four categories of third-country nationals:

  • students;
  • unremunerated trainees;


Admission of students

The admission of students primarily concerns higher education as that is the level at which international mobility is most common. Apart from determining the specific conditions for admission of each of these four categories, the Directive defines the principal criteria for the admission of third-country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service, in particular the availability of adequate financial resources and admission to an educational establishment, participation in a pupil exchange scheme, signature of a training agreement or participation in a voluntary service scheme, as the case may be.

Admission conditions 

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The Directive determines the basic conditions for admitting third-country nationals for the purpose of study:

  • the applicant must have been accepted by an establishment of higher education;
  • the applicant must have sufficient resources to cover his/her subsistence, study and return travel costs;
  • the applicant must have sufficient knowledge of the language of the course to be followed (a flexible condition left to the discretion of the Member States);
  • prior payment of the fees charged by the establishment (a flexible condition left to the discretion of the Member States).

Validity and renewal of residence permits. The period of validity of residence permits varies according to the category:

  • students: a residence permit is issued to the student for a period of at least one year and renewable if the holder continues to meet the conditions. Where the duration of the course of study is less than one year, the permit is valid for the duration of the course;
  • unremunerated trainees: the duration of the placement is for a maximum of one year. In exceptional cases, it may be renewed, once only and exclusively for such time as is needed to acquire a vocational qualification recognised by a Member State;

Rights of third-country nationals
The Directive provides that students shall be entitled to be employed and may be entitled to exercise self-employed economic activity. But access to economic activities for the first year of residence may be restricted by the host Member State.

Procedure and transparency

  • a decision on a residence permit must be adopted, and the applicant must be notified of it, within a period that does not hamper the pursuit of the relevant studies, whilst leaving the competent authorities sufficient time to process the application;
  • if the information supplied in support of the application is inadequate, processing of the application may be suspended and the competent authorities must inform the applicant of any further information they need;
  • any decision rejecting an application for a residence permit must be notified to the third-country national concerned. The notification must specify the possible redress procedures available;
  • where an application is rejected or a residence permit issued in accordance with this Directive is withdrawn, the person concerned shall have the right to mount a legal challenge before the authorities of the Member State concerned. The Directive provides for an agreement on a fast-track procedure for issuing residence permits or visas to students and school pupils between the authority of a Member State with responsibility for the entry and residence of third-country nationals and an establishment of higher education or an organisation operating pupil exchange schemes.