The European Union decided on Monday to lift visa requirements next month for travelers from Albania and Bosnia who have biometric passports with a digitally recorded photograph.
The move is intended to encourage democratic reforms in the Balkan nations, but the bloc warned that restrictions would be reimposed if rules on border controls and passport security were abused. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in Europe and asylum policies are strained by an influx of refugees.
After visa requirements for citizens of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia were relaxed, asylum applications from those three Balkan countries grew significantly, New York Times reports.
A meeting of the EU Interior Ministers in November 2009 had indicated that visa-free access would also be granted to "citizens of the other Eastern Balkan countries" provided they "meet all the conditions."
France and the Netherlands had expressed concern that the two countries had not done enough in terms of tightening border controls to merit the concession, but the European Commission assured to monitor migration flows from all Western Balkan countries.
The Schengen Area operates very much like a single entity for international travelers with no internal border controls, RTT News informs.