Posted on 27.09.2012 in Country, Publications

THE EU VISA PRACTICES IN 2012: ARE THERE ANY CHANGES?

Oleksandr Sushko, Iryna Sushko and Joanna Fomina, photo: Ukrinform

On September 24, Civic Initiative “Europe without Barriers” held an expert roundtable discussion: “The EU visa practice in 2012: are there any changes?”. During the roundtable the research findings on visa practices of the EU and Schengen States (the 6th waves) in Ukraine were presented. The event was attended by the experts from the EU and Eastern Partnership countries. The monitoing has been supported by the European Programme and East East Partnership Beyond Borders program of the Open Society Foundations.

 Within the frame of the monitoring, 1380 respondents were polled in Kyiv and 900 respondents in other cities of Ukraine (applicants to 23 Consular missions of the EU and Schengen Countries). The monitoring has been conducted near Consulates of the following countries: Greece, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Finland, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Netherland, Portugal, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, also non-Schengen states: United Kingdom, Romania and Bulgaria.

The experts pointed out that regardless the existing common EU legislative framework on visa procedures, some Member States introduce stricter or, on the contrary, facilitated norms and requirements for visa applicants.

 Iryna Sushko, head of Civic Initiative “Europe without Barriers” stressed that most countries of Central and Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Baltic countries) demonstrated a relatively loyal visa practice during the entire monitoring period ever since they joined the Schengen area at the end of 2007. Visa requirements of Western European countries are traditionally stricter, Ms. Sushko told. At the same time, the visa practice of individual countries is often changing, particular MS can significantly adjust both its official visa statistics and perception of its policy on behalf of visa applicants. Thus, as an example, the visa practice of Greece and Spain has recently demonstrated positive tendencies.

 Oleksandr Sushko, leading expert of Europe without Barriers, while commenting the situation around long-term and multiple entry visas accentuated the fact that Hungary remains the single leader in issuing long term multiple entry visas (58,1% of visas valid for more than 6 months including the record 22,5% of visas valid for 365+, i.e. mainly for 2, 3 and 5 years). Last year (2011) Hungary was also the first in this category having issued 57,2% of all visas valid for more than 6 months.

Maryana Kuzio, project coordinator of Europe without Barriers mentioned the fact that apart from Hungary (22.5%), Estonia (15%) and Germany (10.3%) are leaders in terms of the «longest» 365+ visa category. She also underlined tha fact that the record indicator for Hungary has been achieved mainly due to the special visa policy of its two Consulates located in Transcarpathian region (Uzhgorod and Beregovo) targeting mostly the local Hungarian ethnic community.

Аmong other things Oleksandr Sushko acknowledged the fact that according to the outcomes obtained the number of multiple-entry and long- (medium-) term visas has been gradually increasing each year. He aslo stressed that this year for the first time the number of 365+ category visas (mainly valid for 2, 3 and 5 years) has exceeded statistical error and reached 3.7% (in summer 2011 it was as few as 0.4%).

At the same time, as Iryna Sushko noticed, while comparing the number of multiple-entry and longterm visas, it has been detected that about one-fourth of all multiple-entry visas are valid for a short term (up to 3 months) significantly decreasing the objective value of such visas for applicants and contradicting the Article 24.2 of the Code according to which multiple-entry visas are issued for a period of «from 6 months to 5 years».

The lowest number of multiple entry visas (12,5%) was registered while monitoring visa practice of Italy. Long term visas valid for more than 6 months are most rarely issued by the Consulates of Denmark, Greece, Finland, Spain and Slovenia.

During discussion the experts, participated in the monitoring indicated that a large number of documents which sometimes are hard to obtain constitute one of the factors turning visas into a «barrier». Poland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, Baltic countries, «non- Schengen» Romania and Bulgaria require the least number of documents, while France, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and «non-Schengen» Britain —  the largest.

According to monitoring, the average refusal rate is 2.05% while the latest official EU statistics (for 2011) states it at 3.3%. These indicators show that Ukraine has reached the unofficial «safe» visa refusal rate (usually considered at 3%).

However, experts also acknowledged that as previously, the relevant situation is different across the Consulates. The Consulates of such countries as Italy, Czech Republic and the Netherlands show a relatively high refusal rate (more than 5). Low refusal rates has been fixed (up to 2.5%) for Poland, Hungary, France, Slovenia, Slovakia, Austria, Denmark, Greece and Lithuania (the best group according to this indicator). «Non-Schengen» Romania and Bulgaria are also included into this group.

This year instead of naming the leaders and outsiders as previously, the EWB experts decided to group EU consular establishments into four nominal «baskets» separating the «friendly», «neutral» and «problematic» consular practices. The «contrasting» consular practice is included into a separate category. This is the practice when certain features of the «friendly» approach towards visa issuance are leveled by «problematic» features in other components.

 Basket 1. «Friendly» visa practice: Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia

Basket 2. «Neutral» visa practice: Latvia, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Denmark

Basket 3. «Contrasting» (ambivalent) visa practice: Germany, France, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Slovenia, Portugal, the Netherlands

Basket 4. «Problematic» visa practice: Italy, Czech Republic, Great Britain

Consular missions included into the «friendly» category demonstrate the best overall result according to all important components of visa practice: quality of issued visas (validity and duration of stay), refusal rate, number of visas issued free of charge, duration of visa procedure, number of documents required from the applicants. Conversely, Consulates are considered «problematic» when they have the worst overall results according to all parameters mentioned above. «Contrasting» or ambivalent visa practices are registered when «pluses» in some elements are balanced by «minuses» in others. For instance, France serves as an example of «contrasting» visa practice: it has the fastest visa processing period and a low refusal rate, but requires the largest number of documents. A similar situation has been registered in the Consulate of Portugal. On the contrary, the consulates of Slovenia and Finland, both requiring relatively few documents, issue too few visas. Greece has significantly lowered its refusal rate and improved the attitude towards applicants but it also issues few multiple entry and long-term visas. Experts considered the visa practice to be «neutral» if there is no approximation towards the extreme indicators (the best or worst).

Experts also distinguished “Improvement leaders” and “Leaders of concern”.

Improvement leaders: Recently, the Consular establishments of Spain and Greece have demonstrated the most dynamic progress towards friendlier standards of the consular practice. Due to the detected positive change, these countries have moved from the bottom of the ranking to the «neutral» and «contrasting» consular services, respectively, with the potential to move to the «friendly» category.Experts mentioned in particular a significant increase (by two times annually during two last years) in the number of issued visas by the Consulate of Spain and a rapid decrease in the visa refusal rate for the consulates of Greece. Apart from the economic crisis objectively motivating a greater «openness» of countries, experts confirmed a positive reaction to the critics concerning these countries listed in our previous analysis.

Leaders of concern: The Consulate of Italy is the subject to the largest number of complaints among Schengen countries. The total time and efforts necessary to obtain an Italian visa are the greatest. We hope that the recent appointment of the new Consul General will benefit to the problems solution as it happened in the case of the consular establishments of Greece and Spain in Kyiv. The Czech Republicprovides another example since it applies a visa practice which is not typical for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. First and foremost, it concerns the unusually low share of visas with long-term validity and the relatively high visa refusal rate. The «non-Schengen» United Kingdom raises separate concerns as it fully avoids taking systematic steps towards visa facilitation and applies the most closed and non-transparent visa policy among the EU Member States