Transit visas unnecessary from mid-July
Foreign residents in Switzerland with long-term Swiss residence permits will shortly be exempt from needing a visa to travel through Schengen states.
The ruling by European Union justice ministers on Thursday to end transit visas will benefit more than half a million foreigners living in Switzerland, which is not an EU member.
There are currently 15 countries that have implemented the Schengen accord, which has a common asylum policy and has done away with border posts. All except Iceland and Norway are in the EU.
The Austrian presidency of the EU said the ruling, agreed in Luxembourg, was due to be signed at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on June 14.
It will then be published in the official journal of the European Union and will come into force 20 days after publication. The EU presidency said the "earliest possible" date for this would be July 6.
At present, a Turkish or Serbian family for example wanting to travel home by road would have to go though Austria or Italy, both Schengen countries.
This means a special transit visa has to be obtained from the relevant consulate or embassy, using a lot of administrative time and money. Permission to cross Schengen countries will be granted for five days.
The move is intended as a temporary measure until Switzerland formally joins the Schengen accord, which is expected to happen in 2008 at the earliest. Voters endorsed joining the agreement last June.
The accord means that Switzerland will abandon systematic identity checks on its borders. In return, the country will gain access to a Europe-wide electronic crime database.
The Unia trade union has long fought for the lifting of the visa requirement as many of its foreign workers are directly affected.
The Forum for the Integration of Migrants also welcomed the vote to end a situation which it had in the past called "unsustainable".
According to Unia, more than 700,000 people could be affected by the visa decision.
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In June and September 2005, Swiss voters came out in favour of government proposals to work closely with the EU on crime fighting and asylum, and to gradually open the labour market to nationals of the EU's newer member states.
Relations with the EU are defined by two packages of bilateral treaties.
To improve the working of these agreements, which cover several areas, the possibility of a "framework agreement" is being mooted.
Before the summer, the government plans to publish a report on relations between Switzerland and the EU.
94% of visas handed out in Switzerland are transit visas.
More than 700,000 foreigners in Switzerland come from non-EU countries.
Currently they may not cross Schengen countries to visit their homelands without a special visa.
The lifting of the visa requirement is expected to be in place before the summer holidays.
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