On May 19, 2021, the Council of the European Union (hereinafter: “Council”) voted in favor of a proposal of the Commission of the European Union (the "Commission") to ease restrictions on non-essential travel to the European Union (the “EU”).
Currently there are two primary ways to gain entry to the EU:
- essential travel: which is a broad category and applies to healthcare professionals, cross-border workers, transportation personnel, transit passengers, those travelling for imperative family reasons, or individuals continuing their studies. Individuals in these categories (which are not exhaustive) are able to enter the EU without providing proof of vaccination. This exception also applies to EU citizens and long-term residents as well as their family members.
- non-essential travel: this category is expanding and is being re-worked to allow more non-essential travel into the EU.
We note that this is not an exhaustive list of entry reasons, as it might differ among Member States. There are various health related measures, including testing and quarantine measures that are not coordinated either.
Below, we provide some details about how non-essential travel is being eased by the EU. We emphasize that there is a great deal of uncertainty among Member States as to how and when these easing measures will be implemented unanimously.
1. NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL FOR ALREADY VACCINATED PASSENGERS
Pursuant to the proposal, Member States will allow travel into the EU for individuals who are fully immunized. Meaning, they have either both of their jabs – or in the case of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine, their single jab – at least fourteen (14) days prior to their arrival. Furthermore, it is at the discretion of the members states to decide whether they extend the scope of the above easement to individuals who received vaccines having completed their WHO Emergency Use Listing Process.
However, it was agreed and stated by the EU that if Member States decided to waive their testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated persons arriving from the EU, it should also be applied to vaccinated travelers arriving from outside of the EU.
Children below a certain age threshold will be able to travel with parents who are vaccinated – provided they have a negative PCR test taken not more than 72-hours prior to arrival at their destination.
On March 17, 2021, the Commission also proposed the adoption of a Digital Green Card, which, if adopted – will help facilitate the expedition of this process and the easing of travel measures. The idea is that travelers will be able to prove their vaccinated status through potentially a phone application issued by a Member State. The implementation of this digital card and/or pass is still in the works and may change. Member States are unsure of whether travelers could apply for the pass ahead of time, or if authorities will issue this type of pass upon arrival at their destination. There has still not yet been a firm decision on whether there is a standard vaccination certificate that will be required, or if all certifications will be accepted from every EU country.
Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, Member States will be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, considering the ability to verify the authenticity, validity, and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data.
2. EXPANDING LIST OF SAFE EPIDEMIOLOGY COUNTRIES
Non-essential travel regardless of individual vaccination status is currently permitted from seven countries (Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand). Nationals from these countries can travel on non-essential basis, regardless of their individual vaccination status. China is expected to be added to the list within the next few days or weeks.
These countries are added and defined by the Council based on certain epidemiological criteria. The adoption of the proposal allows the Council to extend the list of countries from which non-essential travel is allowed regardless of the individual vaccination status, subject to the application of sanitary measures such as testing and/or quarantine. The Council conducts a review of these countries every two weeks.
3. “EMERGENCY BRAKE” MECHANISM
The adopted proposal stresses that the appearance of coronavirus variants is concerning, therefore it requires continued vigilance. If the epidemiology situation in a non-EU country deteriorates rapidly or, if a variant of the virus which is deemed concerning emerges, an "emergency brake mechanism" will be put in place, coordinated at EU level. Under this framework, Member States can adopt urgent temporary restrictions on all travelers entering the EU, who are non-EU nationals or reside in a non-EU country. There are exceptions for healthcare professionals, cross-border workers, transportation personnel, passengers in transit, those travelling for imperative family reasons, individuals traveling to continue their studies, and persons in need of international or humanitarian protection – but strict testing and quarantine requirements will apply.