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09 januari 2012

Visas in Europe

Visas in Europe

Keep out

Europe’s restrictive visa policies irk some big neighbours

EARLY in December the Russian embassy in London hosted a “visa-free” barbecue to draw attention to the European Union’s visa regime. Russia says the system contradicts the spirit of the 1975 Helsinki declaration, which pledged to make exit and entry easier. An EU/Russia summit a week later returned to the theme. Visa liberalisation is also a priority for Turkey, which has been relaxing the rules for many of its eastern neighbours.
Given its economic problems Europe might be expected to solicit visitors. Yet both Britain and the 26-country borderless Schengen area make it difficult for outsiders to obtain visas. Forms are lengthy and complex, costs are high and applications can take months.
Nationals of the western Balkans (bar Kosovars) can get short-stay visa waivers to enter Schengen. Romania and Bulgaria, both EU members, are hoping to join the area in 2012. But Russians still need a stamp in their passports and must pay a fee (although residents of the Kaliningrad exclave have secured special arrangements to visit Poland). Turks must pay €60 ($78) and wait in long queues outside consulates. Business visas can be issued more quickly but are rarely valid for more than a few days.
Applicants to enter Schengen must provide a ream of documents, including proof of health insurance, travel tickets and hotel reservations. If they want to visit France they must produce their most recent bank statement; for Switzerland they will need a statement covering three months that includes a salary payment. Spain wants evidence of funds to cover €64 for each day of a visit, although pricey Finland is happy with €30 a day.
One in 17 applications to visit the Schengen area is rejected. But not all destinations are equal. In 2010 Belgium turned away almost one-fifth of applications for transit and short-stay visas, whereas Finland rejected only 1.3%. Once a long-stay visa is secured for one country, short-stay rights apply to all. In 2010 Poland issued 7% of all Schengen visas, but as many as one-fifth of long-stay ones. France gave out 2.2m visas, the most of any Schengen country, but many had only limited territorial validity.
Britain is even more difficult. A short-stay visa costs Russians €88 and Turks €92. For long-stay visas costs range from €390 to a staggering €875. An application can take two months to process.
Why are the walls of fortress Europe so high? Officials cite security concerns. But few migrants who pose a threat seek to obtain legal visas. Europe is shutting out tourists and businesspeople—exactly the sorts it should be cultivating.

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