FORTRESS SCHENGEN How Europe betrays its own principles
As a citizen of a Schengen member country it is mind-boggling to experience first hand what hurdles are put in the way of potential visitors from 3rd countries. A practice that not only negatively impacts tourism and wastes tax payers money but more importantly contradicts with the liberal policies of the European Union and thus alienates especially the young and open-minded middle class in so many countries in the European influence zone. Enough lamenting, here are the details, draw your own conclusion: My partner Berna is Turkish citizen, living in Izmir. Of course we had planned to prepare and start our trip with Rouletout together in Switzerland and work our way south east. 2 months preparation and a start early May would mean that Berna arrives in Switzerland early March. Nothing easier than that, get a ticket, insurance, apply for a Schengen visa, wait 2 weeks and get on the plane - that was the naive thinking. In order to apply for a Swiss Schengen visa from Turkey you can not go through the Swiss embassy in Istanbul but you have to go through TLS, a private company which main purpose is to collect money and provide bad service in the best of monopolistic ways. TLS is empowered by the Swiss embassy to set appointments, screen the applications and, once deemed sufficiently complete, submit them to the visa section of the embassy in Istanbul. Short, as an applicant you are at the mercy of TLS, not only to get the first appointment in time to fit your travel plans but simply to be treated as a normal human being. Berna was lucky that someone cancelled his appointment and instead of a 2 week wait to get the first appointment (which was the initial answer), she flew to Istanbul end of February. In her bags, the completed Schengen Visa Application form, an invitation letter signed by me including passport copies, the insurance certificate, the flight ticket to Switzerland for 11th of March, and bank account details showing sufficient money to cover her stay in Switzerland. On her visit to the TLS office in Istanbul, TLS deemed that information sufficient so Berna headed back to Izmir, full of good hope to visit Switzerland soon. After a little more than a week, TLS got back with a request for more information. This meant another letter signed by me that confirms that I am able and willing to cover expenses related to the visit of Berna in the Schengen area, bank account details and salary statements for the last 3 months for myself proving that I’m able to cover the expenses. Strange I thought, but if it is needed, let’s do it. Within a few days we had submitted the additional documents to TLS and were anxiously awaiting the official decision, the deadline of March 11 was approaching. March 5, the surprise: Berna receives her passport via mail along with the official Schengen visa rejection form. The reason given is: the information submitted is not credible (number 8 on the standard checklist). No questions, no details on what is not credible, simply “you lied” and thus we don’t want you in the Schengen area. Of course, the rejection is also stamped into the passport making every application for a visa - even elsewhere as we will learn later - harder or even impossible. After a few days of consternation, resignation, and confusion the decision is clear, we must appeal against this decision. Against a decision that calls you a liar and presumed guilty without any way to defend yourself. The official way to appeal against the decision is to submit a formal appeal letter with reasons for the appeal to the Federal Office for Migration (BFM) in Berne (Switzerland). If this letter is received within 30 days of the visa rejection and fulfils all formal requirements the submitter receives a confirmation along with an invoice for the amount of CHF 150.-. Once paid (this has to be done within 30 days again), the BFM will start working on the appeal. On their response it is stated that this might take up to 10 weeks (we paid the invoice on March 24). Needless to say that any travel planning is obsolete at this stage. For us it meant, that I would do all preparation work for our trip and that - provided the BFM really needs 10 weeks - we will start our joint trip outside the Schengen area. As I had heard nothing from the BFM I asked them to confirm receipt of the advance payment on April 15. They kindly confirmed that and also stated that work had been started on April 16. On June 03 I sent another e-mail to the BFM asking for an update as more than 10 weeks were already passed without any feedback. On June 06 the BFM stated that the embassy in Istanbul did not supply the documents on time and that thus the treatment of the files will take longer. On June 10, the Office for Migration of the canton Basel Landschaft sent a questionnaire to be completed by July 11 at the latest. On top of 9 questions related to my guest and the visit the questionnaire asks for a letter signed by the guest confirming that she will leave the Schengen area before visa expiry and a confirmation signed by myself and my place of residence in guaranteeing that I am able and willing to cover expenses of up to CHF 30’000.- related to the visit of my guest. We prepared all the documents, sent the form to the community and once received back - which, by the way required another set of bank account details - supplied all documents to the Office for Migration on June 30 who then forwarded them to the BFM in Berne. The big surprise on July 04; The BFM sends a letter confirming that the embassy in Istanbul will issue the visa as initially applied for. As we are already in Montenegro at this date we asked if there were any options to obtain that visa elsewhere than in Istanbul which unfortunately was not possible. Only the Swiss embassy in Istanbul (the place were you originally applied for a visa) can issue the visa, either via mail (but only in Turkey) or personally. The only documents required are the passport, a valid insurance certificate and a flight reservation. On July 14 we were finally able to arrange an appointment at the embassy in Istanbul for July 22, the passport with visa was picked up on July 23, 5 months after the initial application! Curious to know what the economic benefit of this whole exercise was and how many cases like that occur per year. It looks like a tremendous waste of time and resources to me. For us it meant spending a great time in beautiful countries outside the Schengen area, something we certainly wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Sidenote 1: while being in Mostar (Bosnia and Hercegovina) we tried to apply for a Croatian visa (Croatia was not part of Schengen at this stage). In a very friendly meeting with a representative of the consulate it was made clear to us that due to the visa rejection by Switzerland it is very unlikely that Croatia issues a visa - the stamp in the passport makes you an outcast, even outside of the Schengen area. Sidenote 2: while we had our experience in obtaining a Schengen visa 2 mountaineers from Turkey had planned to visit Switzerland in May to climb the Eiger and Matterhorn north faces. One was granted the visa, the other one was refused based on the argument that the hotel reservation (in Grindelwald) is too far away from the intended purpose of the visit. Of course the one that was granted the visa stayed home as well as the intention was to climb together…