Posted on 29.01.2013 in Featured, News, Ukraine

Ukrainians say EU nations still too stingy with visas

Recent approval of amendments to the visa-facilitation agreement between the European Union and Ukraine may make it easier for some Ukrainians to travel to the European Union.

Yet, many Ukrainians are still experiencing what they describe as unjust treatment when applying for a visa to EU states.

The EU parliament’s foreign affairs committee approved on Jan. 22 measures which, if they come into force, would simplify access to the EU for many Ukrainians, including pilgrims, civil society organization representatives, persons seeking medical treatment and long-haul truck drivers, as well as others.

“The agreement is expected to be ratified by the European parliament roughly in March,” said Iryna Sushko, head of Ukraine-based Europe Without Barriers, a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization that monitors visa-related issues. The agreement should also be ratified by the Ukrainian parliament.

Sushko said the future of visa-free travel to the EU depends on Ukraine’s leaders. Recently introduced legislation on biometric passports ends the first phase of a two-phase road map that sets out requirements for liberalization.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians continue to complain about visa denials for spurious reasons and poor treatment at many EU embassies.

Diana, who has just received her German visa, is still angry and bitter about the process that cost her a lot of money and trouble. “I and three friends applied for visas in December as we planned to go skiing. After filing all documents, including information on our salaries and bank accounts, we got a call from the embassy saying we should do more,” says Diana, who refused to reveal her last name, fearing retaliation.

She was told to open a bank account in ProCredit Bank and freeze it until the day she leaves for Germany. “I was told to deposit 650 euros, some of my friends 600 euros. They gave us no options, just requested it. We opened bank accounts, the freezing of the account cost me and my friends Hr 300 each,” Diana complains.

Many others also complain that some EU consulates in Ukraine raise demands beyond legal and reasonable requirements, creating additional hurdles for applicants. “Some embassies do violate the visa agreement with Ukraine and visa code by demanding unnecessary documents. Many embassies avoid issuing long-term visas to eligible candidates with  a positive visa history,” Sushko says.

She believes that the problem lies in the EU visa code that needs to be clarified.

Meanwhile some Ukrainians such as Irina Petrashova from Kyiv, who frequently traveled to Europe for her holidays, decided to stop. She says she made the decision in 2011 when the Italian Embassy in Kyiv requested that she comes to the embassy after her return home from the trip to make sure she is in Ukraine.

“After all the paperwork and headaches, this was the last straw. I did not go to their embassy out of principle ever since. Now I go on vacation to countries that either have visa-free regimes or issue visas on arrival,” she says.

Even those who can prove solid financial backing and who are married to EU citizens can run into problems.

Kamaliya, the singer-actress married to multimillionaire investor and Kyiv Post publisher Mohammad Zahoor, recently got turned down for a 10-year long-term visa to the United Kingdom. Zahoor, a UK citizen, owns a house in London and his wife, born Nataliia Shmarenkova, has traveled to Great Britain 11 times on eight short-term visas for a total of 72 days since 2005.

Yet she got a two-page rejection letter on Jan. 16 from a UK consular officer in Warsaw, Poland, who concluded that she was attempting to circumvent UK immigration laws and hadn’t provided sufficient financial and other proof that her stays in the UK would be limited to two weeks at a time, as she stated on her visa application.

Zahoor says that his wife will reapply. The UK Border Agency said it does not comment on individual cases.

EU Schengen embassies, however, counter by saying the visa rejection rate for Ukrainians has gone down and stood at 3.3 percent in 2011.

According to UK embassy data, as of 2011 the refusal rate for Ukrainian nationals applying for visas to the UK stood at 9 percent. Shushko said “the most difficult situation is with Britain. Their visa procedure is very closed and it is hard to understand what they base their decisions on. They also do not even communicate with us.”

Despite the low refusal rate from Schengen states, several bitter cases have happened in 2012. The German Embassy created the most fuss when it turned down the head of the Ukrainian bureau of Transparency International Oleksiy Khmara, who could not attend the body’s meeting in Berlin. It also rejected Ukrainian writer Irena Karpa, who had an invitation to speak at a writer’s forum in Germany, and Ukrainian photographer Artur Bondar, who could not attend his own exhibition in Berlin.

In all cases the reason of refusal was “unclear purpose of visit.”

Source: KyivPost