Poland wants to continue issuing as many visas to Eastern Europe as possible

Poland wants to continue granting as many visas to Eastern Europe – assured the Foreign Ministry at a recent meeting with NGOs. Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to criticism of these solutions in visa policy, which according to the NGO’s are ineffective.

Polish Consulate General in Lutsk (photo: Polish MFA)

In July, before the discovery of irregularities in the consulate in Lutsk, Stefan Batory Foundation, concerned about the problems in the countries of the Eastern Partnership with e-consulate through which the applicants register for a Polish visa application and arrange an appointment at the consulate., has turned to the Foreign Ministry.

“We have been regularly checking nearest possible dates in various consulates by the e-consulate and we noticed that in some of them the dates are very distant, and sometimes even the possibility of applying is blocked due to lack of dates” – explained Joanna Fomina of the Stefan Batory Foundation.

Foreign Ministry admits that the e-consulate was in Ukraine and Belarus “almost or completely” locked. In Lviv it was blocked by sending false declarations; over 50 percent of the registration was false. Becouse of this registration by phone had to be returned. In Belarus, e-consulate was used to hackers attack on MFA servers and on the Internet there were distributed free script with available dates at the consulate. The situation in Ukraine, which the Foreign Ministry describes as “cyberwar”, is blamed on “unhappy environment,” which earned on dealing the illegal visas. In Belarus, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not indicate the guilty, but acknowledges the role of “other factors, including political options.”

Among the solutions adopted in the visa policy in neighboring countries MFA defends outsourcing – transfering  visa applications to commercial intermediaries. It was  firstly introduced in Ukraine. According to the Foreign Ministry, it shall facilitate the issuance of visas, because the consulate staff is relieved from accepting applications and can take care of their further processing. Intermediary services increase the cost of the visa: you have to pay for them about 20 euros more (visa costs 30 euros).  This solution, however, is being pushed by the MFA – they want to target 90-95 per cent of applications was submitted by the visa agency points.

Polish taxpayer “will not pay forever for sending consuls” or expanding consulates – explains Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki. He adds that the applying through visa points is better and faster.

Both solutions – e-consulate and outsourcing – Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers as instruments that can keep a Polish visa as a

Marcin Bosacki, spokesman of Polish MFA

“readily available”. “Maintaining the most liberal rules in the Schengen visa policy, particularly in the Eastern Partnership countries, is one of the priorities of our foreign policy” – assured Bosacki.

However, non-governmental organizations see also other tools – in particular, long-term visas.  These are visas which – as Fomina says- can be issued by a person who can “prove the need for frequent travel to the EU, as a scientist, businessman, athlete, NGO activist , etc., or has a family in the EU – has a permanent relationship with the Union.”

“If we give multiple long-term visa, the person applies it once every 4-5 years” – indicates Fomina. It  reduces queues and  costs. However, in 2011, out of 130 thousand visas issued by the consulate in Lviv, only 70 were issued for a period of five years. “This is a permil of all visas issued. The same is with three- or four-year visas” – underlines Fomina.

Foreign Ministry argues that in 2012 the situation changed and long-term visas were issued many more times. According to data  in the first half of this year Ukrainians  issued  over 200,000 visas (single, double and multiple), of which there were many multiple-entry visas -over 126,000. But the fact is that more than 92 percent of these are multiple-entry visas for up to one year (nearly 60 per cent) and up to two years (more than 32 per cent). The remaining 7.4 per cent are visas for two up to five years.

Non-governmental organizations  see also  a different problem – discretion in granting visas. “People in the same life and professional situation , with an identical set of documents, can get a visa for different periods of validity. In one case consulate waive charges, in second – do not” – indicates Fomina.

“If we declare that we want to have a friendly, liberal visa policy, and since apparently existing resources  are not sufficient, you may need to to allocate more money?” – she wonders.

Representative of the Foreign Ministry admits that the “ideal solution” would be to abolish the visa regime with Ukraine. However, Ukraine is still  in the first stage of implementation of the Visa Action Plan, which perspectively aims at abolishing the visa regime with the EU. Belarus lacks of such a perspective. Some EU countries is in general opposed to the rapid abolition of visas for citizens of Eastern Europe.

The main argument of the MFA is a constant high growth of visas issued bycitizens of Eastern Europe. More than half of the visas issued by EU institutions  for Eastern Europe is “from Poland”.

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza