Malta's accession to the Schengen Area

The Schengen Agreement, which provides for the lifting of internal borders, common rules on I external borders and rules relating to visa and police cooperation, was originally signed in June 1985, aboard the ship Princesse Marie-Astrid on the Moselle River, near Schengen, a small town in Luxembourg. This was an appropriate location as in those days townspeople went through passport control and monetary exchange whenever crossing to neighbouring towns in France and Germany.
A subsequent Convention was agreed in 1990, and in March 1995, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain became the first states to effectively implement Schengen provisions.

Malta joined the Schengen area -an area of European free movement without internal border controls -that is presently made up of 24 states. This constitutes another important step in the process of European integration, following Malta's accession to the European Union in 2004 and concurrent with the adoption of the Euro on January 1, 2008.

With the first phase of this latest enlargement of the Schengen area being the dismantling of the sea and land borders, which took place on December 21, 2007, the most notable change for Malta will undoubtedly take place on March 30, 2008 with the dismantling of the internal air borders.

As of December 21, Maltese citizens travelling to another Schengen state by sea are not subject to border checks and this will apply to air travel as from March 30, 2008. For security reasons, Maltese citizens must nevertheless carry a valid Identity Card or Passport when travelling within the Schengen area. Those Maltese citizens entering the Schengen area from a third country are subject only to a minimum border check consisting of identity verification on the basis of their Identity Card or Passport. At the same time, steps have been taken to ensure that facilitation of travel does not come at the expense of security.

Implications of Schengen membership on national security

The Schengen acquis establishes Common Rules in relation to the management of the External Borders. Checks carried out on third country nationals at external borders include verification that the person in question is not registered in the Schengen Information System (515), which is an IT information exchange system connecting the Police forces of the participating states. The 515 features information on lost or stolen documents, stolen vehicles and a list of third country nationals for whom an alert has been issued by a participating state and who therefore should not be admitted into the Schengen area.

The Schengen acquis also provides for a Schengen visa issued in diplomatic representations before the prospective holder enters the Schengen area. This ensures enhanced security, allowing a prior check on persons seeking to enter the Schengen area.

In view of these safeguards, membership of the Schengen area may enhance security at the borders rather than having negative implications. Nevertheless, in case of a serious threat to public security any Schengen state may temporarily re-introduce internal border checks.

Rights of third country nationals who are family members of Maltese citizens

Malta's accession to Schengen also facilitates travel for third country nationals who are family members (the spouse and dependent children who are under 21 years of age) of Maltese citizens. Such third country nationals who are in possession of a residence document issued by any EU Member State may enter the Schengen area without a visa.

A residence sticker, complete with security features, is being issued by the Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs Department, indicating holders as 'Exempt Persons' who are family members of a Maltese citizen. Those third country nationals not already in possession of such document are advised to contact the Citizenship and Expatriate Affairs Department prior to travelling. Those third country nationals who do not possess such residence document and ordinarily require a visa, continue to require such visa to enter the Schengen area from a third country.

Third country nationals who are family members of Maltese citizens are not subject to border checks when travelling between Schengen states by sea. This will also apply to air travel as from March 30, 2008. However, such persons must still be in possession of a Passport and the abovementioned residence document.

Entry conditions for Third Country Nationals

In order to enter the schengen area, including Malta, third country nationals must: hold a valid visa, if this is required
indicate the purpose of their stay and prove they have sufficient means of subsistence for the length of their stay not be the subject of an alert issued through the schengen Information System (515) not constitute a threat to public security,
public policy, public health or the international relations of any schengen state.

Third country nationals travelling between schengen states will not be subject to border checks: they need only carry their Passport and other relevant documentation, such as the schengen visa (if required). schengen accession enables Maltese diplomatic missions to issue schengen visas, which visas are valid throughout the schengen area for stays of up to three months, thereby facilitating travel. Malta will also issue schengen Transit visas valid for 5 days and Airport Transit visas for passage through airport transit areas. Stays in the schengen area exceeding three months will require a long- term visa or residence permit from the state in which the third country national intends to stay, but this will only be valid for stay in that state. It is recommended that contact is made with the competent authorities of the schengen State concerned when a stay for a period exceeding the duration of the Schengen visa is intended.

Malta has concluded arrangements with Austria, Italy and Spain for these countries' representations to issue Schengen visas on Malta's behalf in those third countries in which Malta does not have a representation.

An important step in the process of European integration Accession to the Schengen area clearly facilitates travel for both Maltese as well as foreigners travelling between Malta and the other Schengen states, and is therefore an important step in the process of European integration. However, Malta was able to reap this benefit only because the local stakeholders actively cooperated to implement the necessary changes to Malta's border control systems, including the infrastructure. Moreover, Malta's admission to the Schengen area is in itself a certificate of excellence for the authorities' border control procedures and related arrangements, as these were subject to rigorous evaluations assessing the country's preparedness. Malta is today part of the Schengen area owing to the successful outcome of these evaluations.

A number of key stakeholders were instrumental to the successful outcome of the Schengen accession process, which was led by the Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs. These stakeholders include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Malta Police Force, Malta International Airport p.l.c. and VISET Ltd.