EU looks at easing visas for Russians, Chinese

With newly-affluent Russians and Chinese queuing up to tour the EU, Brussels on Wednesday urged European nations to facilitate travel visas to help spur badly-needed economic growth.

"It's business," said the commissioner for industry Antonio Tajani. "Tourism and travel facilitation have always been high on my agenda."

Foreign travellers last year spent over 330 billion euros ($424 billion) in the European Union, the world's top tourist destination, where the sector provides 18.8 million jobs.

Calling on the 27-nation bloc to do more to streamline common visa policy, Tajani said that he, for example, favoured granting Russians visa-free travel. The issue is expected to come up at an EU-Russia summit December 21.

But European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem cautioned against doing away with travel documents altogether. "We can facilitate obtaining visas for Russia, China and other countries but it would be more complex to abolish them."

Visas issued for entry into the 26-nation Schengen passport-free area have risen spectacularly in recent years.

Some 460,000 Schengen visas were issued in India last year against 340,000 in 2007, while for China more than one million were issued in 2011, twice as many as in 2008.

Russia however outdid them all with 5.1 million visas issued in 2011 compared to 3.5 million in 2007.

The EU's executive says countries need to stick to short deadlines to grant appointments and issue papers while simplifying application forms and reducing fees.

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