After two years of mandate, the European Youth Forum’s Mobility Working Group where EFIL is a member, is beginning to see the outcomes of the work done.

The proposal for a new visa directive targeting students, pupils, volunteers, trainees and au pairs is now discussed under the Italian presidency of the EU and this will lead to a new legislation within 2015. Many EU countries are against including all these targets in the legislation which foresees easier visa procedures, their main argument is that they do not see the economic benefit of harmonizing the legislation, they do not trust youth organisations dealing with exchanges, they are afraid of non-EU citizens exploiting EU welfare system… The risk is that pupils will not be a mandatory category within the directive but only an optional one, meaning that Member states will be free to choose whether or not to apply easier visa procedures for this target.

To catch momentum, on 2 December the event ‘Free Movement for Youth: Knocking Down the Barriers’ was organised by the European Youth Forum in Brussels to give visibility to the policy topic of visas, debate barriers to youth mobility with a group of experts, policymakers, NGOs and youth representative, launch the advocacy platform which provides detailed information on the state of current EU legislation, as well as testimonies of young people’s personal experiences.

The panel discussion included, Ilze Briede, from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs in Latvia, Sebastien Stetter, the European Commission and Brian Jurczik-Arnold, from exchange organisation EEE-YFU. Central to the discussion was the Revision of the Visa Directive, which sets the conditions for how non-EU nationals can come into the European Union for research, study, exchange, training, volunteering or au-pairing.

Cecilia Wikstrom, MEP, rapporteur of the Report on the directive’s proposal, commented: “We are still waiting for the Council to finalise their position in order to enter negotiations, and we are concerned with the development in the Council where it seems several member states would be in favour of deleting the additional categories and only keep students and researchers. I sincerely hope that we can find an agreement on this directive in not too long and that the result will make young people all over the world feel welcomed and wanted in Europe, because we need them!”

EU Commission representative Sebastien Stetter agreed: “This has been ongoing for more than a year and a half, which indicates how difficult the talks are on this. Discussions are highly political, not just technical… but the Commission will under no circumstances lower the scope of what’s already been agreed.”

A clear consensus emerged from the floor as to the benefits of youth mobility, and the Youth Forum strongly agrees. Free movement of young people provides a vital contribution to employability, development of skills, improvement of educational curricula and intercultural understanding both in Europe and internationally. EU member states must act quickly to reduce the overly bureaucratic restrictions that still act as barriers to youth mobility, and ensure that Visa regulations are modernised, reflecting the needs of all the target groups, including volunteers, pupils, and trainees.

As part of our ongoing advocacy on this issue, the Youth Forum was also happy to launch our ‘Freedom of Movement’ website.

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