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Europe

EU Ministers Approve Controversial Visa Fee Hike

EU justice and interior ministers on Thursday agreed to nearly double travel fees for non-EU citizens to pay for increased security measures. Critics say the move discriminates against poor people and hurts business.

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Entering the EU is bound to become more expensive for many

Meeting in Luxembourg, ministers approved a plan to raise fees from 35 euros ($43) to 60 euros for transit and stays of up to three months. The fees will take effect in 2007 and will apply to visitors to all EU countries except Britain, Ireland and Denmark, who are not part of the so-called Schengen agreement and set their own fees.

Italien führt biometrische Ausweise ein

Fingerprinting at border controls has already been introduced by some EU countries such as Italy

While Greece, Hungary and Sweden opposed the hike, France had suggested it in order to pay for additional security measures such as storing fingerprints and photographs in a digital database.

"We do want to have biometric visa and they will cost a bit more," said EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner France Frattini, adding that children who are less than six years old, students, teachers and researchers would not have to pay the new fee.

Wide-ranging exemptions

"We will consider special categories for total exemption like students," Frattini said. "This is our goodwill to promote exchanges."

Antrag auf Visum

Visa application document

According to news reports, the exemptions would not apply to citizens of Turkey, Algeria, Morocco and several other countries. Last year, German authorities alone issued 224,000 visas to people from Turkey.

Russians, Ukrainians and people from Western Balkan countries will have a year to negotiate agreements aimed at keeping the fees at the current level. EU member states will also be able to waive fees on a case-by-case basis. The can also set prices for long-term visas.

Stigmatizing non-EU citizens?

Before the fee hike was approved, critics of the proposal said it would send the wrong message -- especially to EU membership applicants in southeastern Europe.

Parteitag der Grünen in Dresden

Angelika Beer

"It stigmatizes Balkan countries," said Angelika Beer, a German Greens member of the European Parliament. She added that instead of raising fees, the EU should relax visa requirements.

"It's important for business relations and young people to open the doors and let people travel freely," she said.

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