Schengen Visa Facilitation system’s failure in ‘facilitating’ mobility of highly skilled migrants

To date the Schengen visa facilitation system set up by the European Union is turning out to be a failure in ‘facilitating’ visas for highly skilled migrants, according to recent MPC research conducted in Ukraine and Moldova. Instead of facilitating applications, current visa facilitation procedures deter mobility due to ineffective implementation practices . Originally this system was created with the intention of promoting interaction between EU citizens and contracting States by facilitating the issuance of visas for a short stay for a selected group of countries including Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Russian Federation[i]. But alas, it is not an ideal world hence facilitation practices may not actually coincide with the idealised processes. Within official EU discourses, highly-skilled migrants are considered a positive component required for maintaining the EU’s global competitiveness. This is reflected in the categories of people included in the visa facilitation agreements, and the idea of the Blue Card[ii]. Unfortunately, highly skilled migrants are still being considered as potential irregular workers or illegal visa overstayers.

MPC’s preliminary research has highlighted the experience of highly skilled migrants who come from Ukraine and Moldova[iii]. It has emerged that the reality of the visa facilitation system seems to be very different from what was planned by the EU. Instead of being considered, by default, as ‘bona fide’ travellers, the onus is put on highly skilled migrants to prove that they are not requesting a visa for illegal purposes. Though the costs of visa application and number of documents have reduced, it is but a minor change. The main frustration lies with the cumbersome delays, lack of knowledge of relevant policy tools, lack of transparency in decision process, additional costs related to external service providers and possibly inappropriate working practices of consulate officials.

EU wishes to create a ‘European Research Area’[iv]. It intends to “enable researchers, research institutions and businesses to increasingly circulate, compete and co-operate across border”[v] and enable research and development in a transnational perspective. In addition, the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research[vi], the DG Education and Culture[vii], the DG Development and Cooperation[viii] and other EU frameworks such as the EU Visa Code[ix] wish to promote more innovation and research through transnational mobility of researchers and academics.

All these policy tools clearly wish to promote cutting-edge research and training in the EU. The failure of applying effective practices lies partly with the European Commission which has not been effective in supervising the implementation of these policy tools by the respective Member States. One cannot expect a visa officer sitting in an outpost office in the EU neighbourhood countries to know the link between all these policy tools and visa facilitation agreements. Responsibility for this inefficiency of implementation lies with the respective host country’s Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education. These bodies should communicate and coordinate with each other for these policy tools to be effectively  implemented.

Furthermore highly skilled migrants should not be seen solely through the perspective of economic benefits for the host EU countries. Immigrants can integrate into the host society and at the same time sustain a thriving social and professional link with their home country. Regrettably, these crucial links are the ones getting severely affected due to the multiple discrepancies between the clauses of the visa facilitation agreement and their implementation by particular member states. For example, families visiting a highly skilled migrant in the EU have to go through the time-consuming and expensive process of visa application every time they wish to visit their relatives. A vast majority of highly skilled migrants from Ukraine and Moldova are not even aware that their close family members can apply for a multiple-entry visa if they have previously visited their family member. Similarly, highly skilled migrants, who are invited for conferences or short training programmes in the EU, decide not to attend due to the cumbersome and expensive visa application process. This situation negatively impacts EU-based companies and research institutions, hampering the flow of  highly skilled migrants throughout the continent. In the research conducted by MPC, it has emerged that in many instances the visa officials arbitrarily decide on visa applications. This lack of transparency and arbitrariness of application decision-making process puts the credibility of the whole procedure in question.

Though a visa-free regime is still an elusive dream for the EU Neighbourhood countries, some changes in the policy can make a positive difference and promote mobility of highly skilled migrants. MPC’s research has provided some recommendations as given below:

–          Implementation of the Visa Code should be accompanied by binding legal guidelines agreed within local Schengen cooperation that will end the discretion of the Schengen Members states in the following areas – the lists of supporting documents; the length of visa procedures; and the mode of lodging the application (via an outsourcing centre or in person).

–          Introduction of special procedures for frequent travellers: maximum term multiple-entry visas, special windows for express procedures, legal minimum of the documents needed.

–          Full information to be provided to applicants on their rights granted both by the Visa Code and Visa Facilitation Agreements both on the consulates’ website and available in print in one’s own language within the visa centres.

–          The possibility of appealing against the decision on a visa in one’s own language following a clear transparent procedure.

–          Pilot visa-free regime for biometric passport holders.

–          Pilot visa-free regime for individuals involved in cross-border EU programmes and projects.

The current visa facilitation situation is turning out to be counterproductive due to the failure of the European Commission and Member States in the proper and thorough implementation of the relevant policy tools as mentioned in our discussion above. This not only adversely impacts the political image of EU but also has high economic costs. The status quo needs to be changed urgently to ensure that the EU’s dream of having ‘people-to-people contact’ does not remain an enigma forever.

The MPC Team


[i] For the original texts of the agreements, please visit the section on ‘Visa facilitation agreements’ at  http://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/policies/borders/borders_visa_en.htm

[ii] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32009L0050:EN:NOT

[iii] For the original research paper conducted by MPC, please visit: http://www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/docs/RR%202012%2001%20-%20visa%20final.pdf

[iv] http://ec.europa.eu/research/era/index_en.htm

[v] http://ec.europa.eu/research/era/understanding/what/what_is_era_en.htm

[vi] http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp7/index_en.cfm

[vii] http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/index_en.htm

[viii] http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/index_en.htm

[ix] http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/ukraine/travel_to_eu/visa_code/visa_code_en.htm

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