Germany is thinking about abolishing visas

Open borders advocates may have some allies over in Germany. In January this year, Deutsche Welle published this story with the unassuming title German companies want fewer visa restrictions (emphasis added):

Visa applications take too long, representatives from German industry say. They argue that companies lose money when a foreign business partner cannot travel. And they have concrete proposals to reform the system.

A deal worth millions was almost closed at a German agricultural fair, but urgently needed visas could not be issued to the foreign business partner. The telephone number in the documents was wrong, so embassy officials couldn’t reach anyone.

This is not a unique case, according to Andreas Metz, a spokesman for the German business community’s Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations. He cannot understand why old rules are followed to the word.

The visa system is actually a relic of the 19th century,” Metz told DW. “Today, there is a completely different method to ensure security, namely through a biometric passport and computerized information, which impede travel less significantly.” He hopes that visa requirements will be done away with eventually.

The discussion about unrestricted travel is also being discussed at the government level. German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler is pushing for more freedom. He recently called for Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich to give up his opposition to a more liberal issuing of visas.

The Interior Ministry’s main argument is security. The ministry is in favor of simplifying the visa application procedure, but it is against getting rid of visas. It has to ensure that aspects related to security and migration policy are preserved, the ministry said.

It seems difficult to believe that the German government is considering open borders via the abolition of visas. I’m not sure what exactly is being meant here by abolishing visas, since I can’t imagine the German government is eager to invite the entire world to live in its borders. (The article goes on to cite concerns about Turks and Russians unlawfully settling in Germany if visas are abolished.) Probably what’s being envisioned is that visitors would not require visas, so anyone can enter — but settling would still require a residency permit.

(By the way, talking of political externalities — Philipp Rösler is an immigrant from Vietnam who was adopted by a German family, so one can argue he has something of a vested interest in loosening border controls.)

This isn’t true open borders, but it’s one way to start down the road there. As the German lobbyist indicates, the modern visa system is only going to become even more out of place with the advancement of technology. I can still envision scenarios where a reasonable government would require visas: I can see the case for requiring visas from countries which are hotbeds for terrorism or organised crime. But modern technology makes the case for abolishing visas only more compelling.

John Lee is an administrator of the Open Borders website. Liberal immigration laws are a personal passion for him. See all blog posts by John.


2 thoughts on “Germany is thinking about abolishing visas”

  1. “the modern visa system is only going to become even more out of place with the advancement of technology”

    In what way? Technology has made the visa system work better in Australia: they use an online form that reduces delays and inconvenience. The delays, visits to embassies, and so on cause most of the problems with visas per se.

    “Probably what’s being envisioned is that visitors would not require visas, so anyone can enter — but settling would still require a residency permit.”

    This is the situation at the US-Canada border: one doesn’t need to apply for a visa in advance to enter either country, if one is a citizen of one or the other, but one does have to state one’s reasons for entry, and one can be questioned based on immediate cause for suspicion or government records. It doesn’t mean one can legally work or settle without meeting the visa criteria, but the matter is settled at the border rather than with an earlier application.

  2. It occurs to me that open borders might be easier to implement in a country like Germany or Sweden than in the United States, because so many fewer people speak German or (a fortiori) Swedish, than English. If, for linguistic reasons, there is far fewer demand for immigration to Germany or Sweden, they might be able to open their borders and face a more manageable influx. Of course, against this, Germany and (a fortiori) Sweden have smaller populations than the US, so if they became the go-to destination for all the world’s poor social climbers, they’d be more easily “swamped.”

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