The European Union has warned Africa and other countries of introducing a tougher visa regime if they refuse to readmit economic migrants.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner, told a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday that their citizens would find it harder to get visas to Europe if they refused to cooperate.
“We will introduce stricter conditions for processing visas when a partner country does not cooperate sufficiently on the readmission of irregular migrants,” Avramopoulos said. “I cannot understand how a country can refuse to take back its nationals” when they have entered Europe illegally, the official added.
Senior European officials say the vast majority of people from sub-Saharan Africa are economic migrants.
Brussels has been seeking greater cooperation from such countries to take back irregular migrants. The 28-nation bloc has also stepped up efforts to return them to their home countries.
EU sources, however, said African countries had dragged their feet on readmitting them, mainly because the money they sent home from abroad boosted their economies.
“Countries like Mali, Senegal or Ivory Coast cooperate very little,” an unnamed diplomat stated, adding, “We must fight to obtain the famous consular pass (to return a migrant to his country) and that undermines the ties of trust we must have with these countries.”
Under the proposal, if the commission and member states find other countries are uncooperative on returns, they can toughen rules on granting visas. These include the processing time of applications, the length of validity of visas issued, the visa fees and the exemption of such fees for certain travelers such as diplomats.
The commission, which is the EU executive, said 14 million tourist and business visas for short stays were granted in 2016. These visas are required for citizens of around 100 countries and allow them to travel freely in 26 European countries in the so-called Schengen zone.
Under international law, European states do not have to admit migrants seeking jobs but are required to take in those people fleeing persecution and war. Europe was hit in 2015 with its worst migration crisis since World War II.