26 January 2013

Europe 26 - Ukraine

Ukrainians say EU nations still too stingy with visas

News item | Source Kyivpost

Ukrainians say EU nations still too stingy with visas.
Recent approval of amendments to the visa-liberalization 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.”

17 January 2013

Europe 25

German companies want fewer visa restrictions.

Source: Deutsche Welle

This article is about Germany. However the situation with the Netherlands and Russia (and Ukraine too) is very similar. A tourist going to Spain or Greece gets more easy (and a longer valid) visa than business partners and family traveling from Russia and Ukraine to the Netherlands and Germany. It seems our diplomats and 'public-servants' want to believe they 'protect' our countries, while in fact they are responsible for a significant financial loss. 

Visa applications take too long, representatives from German industry say. They argue that companies lose money when a foreign business partner cannot travel. And they have concrete proposals to reform the system.

A deal worth millions was almost closed at a German agricultural fair, but urgently needed visas could not be issued to the foreign business partner. The telephone number in the documents was wrong, so embassy officials couldn't reach anyone.

This is not a unique case, according to Andreas Metz, a spokesman for the German business community's Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations. He cannot understand why old rules are followed to the word.

"The visa system is actually a relic of the 19th century," Metz told DW. "Today, there is a completely different method to ensure security, namely through a biometric passport and computerized information, which impede travel less significantly."

He hopes that visa requirements will be done away with eventually.

Fear of organized crime

The discussion about unrestricted travel is also being discussed at the government level. German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler is pushing for more freedom. He recently called for Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich to give up his opposition to a more liberal issuing of visas.

The Interior Ministry's main argument is security. The ministry is in favor of simplifying the visa application procedure, but it is against getting rid of visas. It has to ensure that aspects related to security and migration policy are preserved, the ministry said.

There are also doubts about ending the Schengen visa requirement for countries like Russia and Turkey. The Schengen area is a region of Europe with no border controls for people traveling in that area, and includes 26 countries.

"In the case of Russia, findings suggest that increased travel could be exploited to expand activities in organized crime," a ministry spokesperson told DW.

Also, illegal immigrants often come from Russia and Turkey, or use the two countries as their transit route to Europe.

Finland issues significantly more visas 

The contradiction between security and relaxing restrictions is absurd for business industry lobbyists, like Andreas Metz. "The visa debate in this country focuses too narrowly on possible abuse," he said.

Other countries within the Schengen region are more generous, he added. "Every year, around one million visas are issued to Russian citizens from the Finnish consulate in St. Petersburg. By comparison, 340,000 visas a year are issued by Germany," Metz said. Even countries like Italy and Spain, which rely on their booming tourism industries, are more liberal, he noted.

In 2011, the German authorities agreed to simplify the visa application process to a certain extent. Since then, external service providers can also accept applications so that waiting times have been reduced considerably. Offices offering these services have opened in Turkey, and one just opened in Moscow - more will follow. But this change does not go far enough, the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations says. The scope of EU rules should be expanded, according to a paper drawn up by the committee. It recommends that applications be accepted on the Internet or at the border and proposes the removal of the fee.

Business suffers due to Germany's strict visa policy, says Metz. About 20 percent of all companies with business partners in Russia have lost a contract, according to a poll conducted by the committee. "There are also cases in which a deal could not close because someone was unable to travel to meet business partners," Metz said.

Red tape cost million

In addition, industry representatives also criticize the cost of visa applications for the countries involved. "We reckon that the visa requirement alone between Germany and Russia costs the two countries 160 million euros annually," Metz says.

A typical application takes four to six weeks to be processed. The rejection rate for Russian citizens is low - around 1.4 percent - and most often, technical errors are to blame.

Just such cases regularly go before Germany's administrative court. "In Berlin, even with normal visa process complaints, we have cases that take 15 to 21 months," legal expert Rolf Gutmann told DW.

And complications could also come up if the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK) has given the green light for the visa, the expert who also co-publishes the magazine "Immigration Law" added.

Damage to Germany's image

Drastic cases are less typical in the IT industry. The bureaucratic processes are more of a hurdle, says Stephan Pfisterer at BITKOM, the umbrella group representing the IT industry. "There are visa problems occasionally with visitors from Eastern Europe, and sometimes from East Asia," he noted.

Visitor appointments must be planned and coordinated well in advance and short-notice meetings sometimes cannot take place. "That is, of course, not advantageous for Germany's image as a business location - no question about that," he said.

16 January 2013

Europe 24 (video)

Promoting economic growth with better visa policy.

Facilitating the travel of non-EU nationals to the EU has a considerable impact on the economy as a whole. With 18.8 million jobs in 2011, tourism has become one of the biggest generators of employment in the European Union. The Communication adopted today looks at ways to make sure that the visa rules help the EU to remain an attractive destination, in particular for those countries presenting a high tourist generating potential.

At the same time, two proposal in the area of visa policies were adopted.

Firstly citizens from 16 Caribbean and Pacific Island Nations should soon be able to travel to the Schengen area without needing a visa. The objective is to simplify travel to the Schengen area, as well as to Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania for citizens of these countries. The Commission's proposal foresees that the visa exemption will be reciprocated through visa waiver agreements, ensuring a full visa free regime for all EU citizens who wish to travel to these countries.

Today (07-11-2012) the Commission also adopted a report on the functioning of 'Local Schengen Cooperation'. The report evaluates the first two years of implementation of the EU Visa Code and makes concrete recommendations for how cooperation can be improved, particularly on the harmonisation of practices.

11 January 2013

Embassy 17 - Guidelines on proper conduct - part 4

Netherlands embassy Kiev. Guidelines for proper government action.

Proper government action is:

A. Open and Clear
B. Respectfull
C. Caring and solution focused
D. Fair and reliable

D. Fair and reliable

16. Integrity

Public authorities should act with integrity and use their powers only for the purposes for which they were conferred.

Citizens are entitled to expect authorities to perform their duties conscientiously. Authorities and their employees can be expected to refrain from abusing their positions or powers, and from wasting time and resources.

17. Trustworthiness

Public authorities should act within the framework of the law. They should be honest and fair-minded. They should do what they say and should comply with judgments of the courts.

Authorities should keep their promises and meet their commitments. When they have created justifiable expectations in the minds of particular citizens, they should honour those expectations. Authorities should comply with court judgments promptly and in full.

18. Impartiality

Public authorities should be impartial in their attitude and unprejudiced in their actions.

Authorities should seek to foster public confidence in their impartiality. They should therefore avoid any suggestion of partiality in their actions.

19. Reasonableness

Before taking any decision, public authorities should weigh up the various interests involved. The outcome of this process must not be unreasonable.

In all their actions, authorities should assemble the relevant facts and examine all the circumstances. The assembled facts should be related to the interests involved, and a careful balance should be struck between the latter.

20. Careful preparation

Public authorities should assemble all the information necessary to take a well-considered decision.

This means that authorities should engage in active information gathering and should subject the resulting information to critical scrutiny by giving citizens the right to respond.

21. Effective organisation

Public authorities should ensure that their organisational and administrative systems promote the standard of their services to the public. They should work meticulously and avoid mistakes. Any errors that occur should be corrected as quickly as possible.

Authorities should design their administrative systems (whether digital or manual) in such a way as to guarantee the continuity of a high standard of service to the public. This also applies to the way their systems relate to each other. For example, authorities should file in-coming documents carefully and process in-coming information in an effective way. Information provided by authorities should be accurate and clear. This implies good record-keeping and, where appropriate, active information gathering. Authorities should correct inaccurate information and eliminate unnecessary information from all their systems.

22. Professionalism

Public authorities should ensure that their employees work in accordance with relevant professional standards. Citizens are entitled to expect government employees to be expert in their particular fields.

Civil servants should act in accordance with the professional standards and guidelines relevant to their work. Their attitude should at all times be appropriate and well-informed.

4 January 2013

Embassy 16 - Guidelines on proper conduct - part 3

Unjustified treatment at embassy? Get support from National Ombudsman.

Proper government action is:

A. Open and clear
B. Respectfull
C. Caring and solution focused
D. Fair and reliable

C. Caring and solution focused

11. Individualised approach 

Public authorities should be prepared to waive general policies or rules in cases where their enforcement would have unintended or undesirable consequences.

Authorities should operate on the basis of statute but should never ignore the specific circumstances in which citizens find themselves. Even in their routine administrative practice, they should always seek tailor made solutions and measures fitting the specific circumstances of the individual citizen.

12. Cooperation

Public authorities should cooperate spontaneously with other governmental and nongovernmental bodies in the interests of the citizen and should not send citizens from pillar to post.

Administrative authorities should not hide behind their official organisational task, but should always be ready to work hand in hand with other bodies. Public authorities should offer citizens a single contact point for each query or problem.

13. Leniency

When mistakes have been made, public authorities should show leniency and flexibility in remedying them. They should not deny reasonable claims for compensation and should not burden citizens with unnecessary and complicated procedures and demands for proof.

Authorities should be prepared to admit their mistakes and to offer appropriate apologies. They should treat compensation claims in a generous and flexible way, searching for ways to reach fitting solutions. They should also do this when a measure taken in the general public interest has had a disproportionately negative impact on a particular citizen. The National Ombudsman has issued Dutch-language advice on apologies and guidelines on compensation.

14. Promptness

Actions by public authorities should be as prompt and effective as possible.

Statutory time-limits should be regarded as final deadlines and authorities should strive to operate well within them. When it is likely to take longer to reach a decision, the authority should notify the citizen in advance. Where there are no statutory time-limits, authorities should seek to complete processes within a reasonably short time.

15. De-escalation

In all its contacts with individual citizens, public authorities should seek to prevent or halt escalation. Communication skills and a solution focused attitude are essential in this respect.

Citizens are human beings and display normal human behaviour. An authority’s response to citizen behaviour can strongly influence the probability of escalation. Authorities can be expected to act professionally and to do their utmost to prevent escalation and to calm the situation if it occurs. If the citizen is unreasonable or has an obstinately uncooperative attitude, the authority should escalate the situation only as far as necessary.

27 December 2012

Embassy 15 - Guidelines on proper conduct - part 2

Unjustified treatment at Netherlands embassy in Kiev? National ombudsman helps to defend your rights.

Proper government action is:

A. Open and clear
B. Respectful
C. Caring and solution focused
D. Fair and reliable

B. Respectful

5. Respect for fundamental rights

Public authorities should respect the fundamental rights of citizens. Some of these fundamental rights guarantee protection against government action. For example:
- the right to physical integrity
- the right to privacy
- the right to respect for private and family life
- the right to personal liberty
- the right to freedom from discrimination
By contrast, other fundamental rights guarantee that public administration will take certain action. For example:
- the right to education
- the right to health

Fundamental rights are established both in the Dutch Constitution and in conventions like the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union. Citizens are entitled to expect government to respect them.
If the Constitution or Convention provides for statutory exceptions to a fundamental right, authorities should be careful to comply with the criteria and rules for such exceptions. Dutch examples include provisions in the Police Act (Politiewet), the Code of Criminal Procedure (Wetboek van Strafvordering), the Personal Data Protection Act (Wet bescherming persoonsgegevens) and the Act on Entry into Dwellings (Algemene wet op het binnentreden).

6. Promotion of active public participation

Public authorities should maximise public involvement in their operations.

Authorities should strive to give citizens an active role in their operations and in the evelopment and implementation of their policies. If citizens have a role to play in the decisionmaking process, authorities should publicise this at an early stage, stating what role citizens can play and what arrangements have been made for this. They should also issue retrospective information on the use made of citizens’ contributions to the decision-making process.
The National Ombudsman has issued Dutch-language guidelines on this subject.

7. Courtesy 

Public authorities should be respectful, courteous and helpful towards citizens.

Public servants should show consideration towards citizens and be as helpful as possible. They should behave respectfully, taking due account of the views and circumstances of the individual citizen.

8. Fair play

Public authorities should give citizens the chance to exhaust all the procedural avenues open to them and should ensure fair play in this respect.

Authorities should adopt an open-minded attitude, giving citizens the opportunity to state and defend their own view, provide evidence and refute opposing views (i.e. hearing both sides).
Public authorities should also lay their own cards on the table and be pro-active in informing citizens of the procedural avenues open to them.

9. Proportionality

In pursuing its aims, public authorities should avoid measures that have an unnecessary
impact on citizens’ lives or that are disproportionate to the aims concerned.

Authorities should always consider whether their aims can be achieved by less onerous means.
They should avoid taking measures that have a disproportionately negative impact on particular citizens.

10. Special care

When people are in government custody and therefore reliant on public authorities for
their physical care, the authorities should provide that care.

Authorities have a duty to take good care of individuals deprived of their physical freedom or autonomy. They have a responsibility to provide adequate medical services and other care for such individuals. This applies, for example, to detainees and to young people placed in secure institutions.

26 December 2012

Embassy 14 - Guidelines on proper conduct - part 1

Guideline on proper conduct applies to embassy.

The National Ombudsman publicised the Guidelines on proper conduct. The embassies of The Netherlands are subject of these guidelines too. During the years several applicants faced situations in violation with these guidelines. In Kiev many examples are related to the "man with grey hair".

Guidelines on proper conduct

In the performance of their duties, administrative authorities should deal with citizen and their interests in the right way. This means that they should take individual citizens seriously and show respect. They should not operate like impersonal bureaucratic machines. Nor should they ignore the human aspects of cases. If needed, they should seek direct personal contact and try to prevent or resolve problems through good communication. Although citizens are dependent on the cooperation or decisions of administrative authorities in many aspects of their lives, the two parties should deal with each other on an equal footing. Authorities can achieve this by maximizing the involvement of citizens in decision-making processes and by acting on a basis of trust. That way, authorities can operate effectively and make citizenship a meaningful reality. At the same time it is also important that citizens adopt a constructive attitude. The standards of proper conduct established by the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands help administrative authorities to deal with citizens and their interests in the right way.

Essentially, proper government action is:

A. Open and clear
B. Respectful
C. Caring and solution focused
D. Fair and reliable

A. Open and clear

1. Transparent

Actions of public authorities should be open and foreseeable so that it is clear to citizens why government is taking a particular action.

Transparency requires openness on the part of public authorities. They should ensure that citizens are informed about decision-making procedures and can understand how and why particular decisions have been taken. They should ensure that their actions are open to critical scrutiny.

2. Provide adequate information

Public authorities should ensure that citizens receive the information they need. The information should be clear, correct and complete. Public authorities should provide it proactively, not just when citizens ask for it.

Authorities have a duty to provide citizens with complete information about actions and decisions that may affect their individual interests. It should not be left to citizens to ask for such information. Authorities should adopt a service-oriented attitude in this respect and be proactive in providing relevant information at the appropriate time.

3. Listen to citizens

Public authorities should listen actively to individual citizens, so that they feel that they are heard.

Authorities should turn a listening ear to individual citizens. They should hear what citizens have to say, and also what they do not say. This means that authorities should take individual citizens seriously and be genuinely interested in their priorities.

4. Adequate reasons

Public authorities should supply clear statements of the reasons for their actions and decisions. Such statements should explain the statutory basis for the action or decision, the facts taken into consideration and the way individual citizens’ interests have been taken into account. Citizens should be able to understand the statements.

Authorities should always supply adequate reasons for their decisions and actions. They must not act arbitrarily or simply on the basis of administrative convenience. An adequate statement of reasons should always include three elements: the statutory basis, the facts and interests, and a clear explanation of the authority’s reasoning. The reasons should be specific to the individual case and should be comprehensible to the recipient.