For many years, there have been illegal border crossings into the EU. However, the number of irregular migrants started to increase significantly in 2011, following the onset of the Arab spring, when thousands of Tunisians began arriving in Lampedusa and Sub-Saharan Africans fled Libya in the post-Gaddafi era. A further dramatic increase in illegal migration followed in 2014, when instability in Libya, triggered by its second civil war, led to mass departures for Italy. The peak of the migration crisis was reached in 2015, as both migrants and refugees from war-torn countries in Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia sought asylum and safety in Europe. By the end of 2015, over one million refugees and migrants had arrived in Europe by sea or land, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Migrants and refugees have continued to arrive in 2016. Many land in Greece via Turkey and continue their journey through the western Balkans in order to seek asylum in other EU countries. European leaders, having failed to persuade the African governments to take more responsibility for the plight of their people, have been trying to find a solution with Turkey to curtail the flow of migrants. A controversial EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan was signed on 18 March 2016, coming into effect two days later. The plan provides for irregular migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey to be returned to Turkey. Further, for every Syrian returning from Greece, a Syrian based in Turkey will be resettled to an EU country. According to the European Commission, the number of migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey has begun to fall already. The EU-Turkey Statement also provides for the relaxing of visa requirements for Turkish nationals for all participating Member States by no later than the end of June 2016, should Turkey meet all of the requirements of the EU-Turkey Statement.
Not surprisingly, this migration crisis has fed a rise in political populism and xenophobia. Many are calling into question the provisions of the Schengen agreement. Austria, for example, decided on 27 April 2016 to introduce a new restrictive refugee policy, which could include border controls during declared states of emergency, especially at the Italian border.
The UK will hold a referendum on an EU exit (Brexit) in June 2016 – with immigration at the heart of the debate. One consequence of a potential Brexit would be that Britons might require visas to travel and to work in continental Europe. It is possible that a Brexit will increase Euroscepticism in general, serving as a ‘template’ for other EU countries to envisage an EU exit. As no full Member State has ever left the EU, the consequences of a Brexit are unprecedented.
Even though Switzerland saw a decline in the number of new asylum applications in the first quarter of 2016, the Swiss government needs to consider a possible increase in asylum applications in the upcoming months as the situation in conflict regions remains uncertain. An emergency plan has been implemented, which would see the Swiss border control unit reinforcing border controls if there were a dramatic rise in asylum applications or border crossings.
The ultimate consequences of the current migration crisis will remain uncertain until at least June 2016, when the Brexit referendum and the possible relaxation of visa requirements for Turkish nationals will be decided.
What this means for your business travellers
The migration crisis is affecting business travellers in a number of ways:
- In some European states, such as Sweden, resources have been reallocated to process asylum applications, which leads to delays in the processing of work permit applications
- Travellers may be subject to increased security checks and scrutiny
- Security has been tightened at borders and travellers are subject to transit delays (as may be the case in Austria, for example)
- EU cross-border workers are now often subject to security checks
- Easier movement of Turkish nationals across Europe, if the visa requirements are relaxed in June 2016
Other EU migration developments
The visa reciprocity mechanism of the EU aims at facilitating visa-free travel for its citizens to third countries that have been granted an EU/Schengen-wide visa waiver. The US, Canada and Brunei have continued to apply visa requirements to certain EU countries, despite benefiting from the EU-wide visa waver. This may lead to a suspension of the visa waiver programme for nationals of these three countries. While it is expected to solve the non-reciprocity situation with Brunei soon, the discussions with Canada and the US are ongoing. We expect that the European Parliament and Council will make a final decision on this by 12 July 2016, at the latest. As any decision must take into account the economic, political and administrative consequences of the suspension of the visa waiver programme, we consider such a suspension of the visa waiver for US and Canadian citizens as unlikely.
Some additional information coming from our network we would like to share with you on this subject:
- Geopolitical instability, refugee crisis, oil crisis, global economic slowdown – how does it effect global mobility? Peter Clarke, PwC Global Mobility Services Leader Julia Onslow-Cole, Global Immigration Leader and Brynne Herbert, CEO of MOVE Guides talk about trends effecting global mobility: https://vimeo.com/162978778
PwC Legal will continue to monitor the situation and we will advise our clients on upcoming changes.