An analysis of the concept ”Likelihood of Return” in family visitors’ visas (Schengen C-visa) to Norway (2009)

The main aim of this study is to examine the application of the concept ”Likelihood of Return” in decisions concerning family visits to Norway.

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An analysis of the concept ”Likelihood of Return” in family visitors’ visas (Schengen C-visa) to Norway (pdf, 525 kB)


The Parliamentary Ombudsman receives many complaints regarding decisions made by the Immigration Authorities. From the viewpoint of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, it is not sufficient that the Immigration Authorities refer to general experiences with particular nationalities in their rejections for applications for family visitors’ visas; the Immigration Authorities also need to show how every case has been evaluated on its own merits.

In practice, discretionary assessment regarding the ”Likelihood of Return” in every application is an important reason for rejections of family visitors’ visa applications.

The main aim of this study is to examine the application of the concept ”Likelihood of Return” in decisions concerning family visits to Norway. The central question here is whether the practicing of the concept is consistent across different levels in the Immigration Authorities, namely, in the Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and in the Norwegian Foreign Service Missions. The results of this study are important for UDI in its decision whether or not to go ahead with the development of codified criteria in the field of visa applications. The Immigration Authorities observe that the volume of applications for family visitors’ visas is steadily increasing.

The project will, therefore, aim to bring into view the central elements in the concept ”Likelihood of Return” in visa practice, and how these elements are evaluated or “weighed” by the Immigration Authorities. Put differently, the project will focus on how “strong” and “weak” Likelihood of Return are understood and applied by different levels in the Immigration Authorities.

The bulk of the empirical data in the project is drawn from a total of 245 cases from Pakistan, Iran and Sri Lanka. Some applications were granted visas and some were rejected visas (245 visa decisions as a result of first instance processing). 102 of the applications which were rejected filed appeals (102 visa decisions following appeal processing). In other words, the empirical data consists, therefore, of 245 visa decisions as a result of first instance processing and 1021 visa decisions following appeal processing.

The project was challenging for several reasons:

  • Discretionary assessments e.g. regarding likelihood of return are fundamental in the evaluation of visa applications, but the project cannot get “into the heads” of visa officials.
  • When a visa is granted, the applicant receives a decision stating that fact: no reasons are given. Unless there is a written record in the files regarding how the decision to grant a visa was made, it is difficult for this project to study how the Immigration Authorities arrive at the decision or how Likelihood of Return is defined in a particular case.
  • Foreign Service Missions often forward visa applications to UDI for first instance processing, or for appeal (ie. second instance)
  • processing, without stating explicitly why they do so. This makes it difficult for this project to grasp the way the Foreign Service Missions arrive at the decision to forward the case or how they understand the concept ”Likelihood of Return”.
  • According to UDI’s goals regarding administrative quality, visa practice adjustments can be traced to “signals” sent from UNE to UDI via visa decisions. This view is echoed in interviews with senior officials. However, in the appeals studied, it is difficult to observe a systematic chain of “signals” between the Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) and UDI, and, by extension, between UDI and the Foreign Service Missions. This presents a dilemma to this project as the basis for visa practice adjustments – as opposed to policy changes – regarding “strong” and “weak” definitions of Likelihood of Return, cannot be easily traced by research or by the Norwegian authorities themselves.

In order to deal with these problems, the project used a checklist to register the presence of selected criteria, e.g. previous visits to Schengen, in every case. In addition, the project also cross-checked all the cases with UDI’s database for more data that could be relevant.

Using a checklist implies that the closest the study can get to how the concept ”Likelihood of Return” is applied, is to observe general trends regarding the evaluation of single criteria in visa applications. In other words, the checklist will not be able to demonstrate how the Immigration Authorities weigh several criteria “for” and “against” granting a visa in a comprehensive visa evaluation. The project therefore also used quantitative techniques to examine relationships between selected criteria to uncover relationships between them.

More advanced statistical methods and a larger empirical base of visa applications – beyond the framework of this project – are needed if UDI wishes to obtain a more in-depth understanding of how the Immigration Authorities weigh criteria “for” and “against” granting a visa in a comprehensive evaluation. However, as the testing of codified criteria in visa processing is one of the longer-term interests of the Immigration Authorities, the proposed procedure in this study might be able to provide enough groundwork for the development of codified criteria, should UDI decide to go ahead here.

The study compares visa practice in selected Foreign Service Missions to UDI. The three sets of criteria are:

  • Welfare (visit to children, visit to sibling, events such as birth, serious illness etc)
  • Age (60 years or older, 36-59 years, 19-35 years, 18 years or younger)
  • Various (previous visit to Schengen, spouse remains behind, spouse and children remain behind).

The study of general trends regarding the evaluation of single criteria shows that the Norwegian Immigration Authorities have a generally consistent visa practice regarding family visitors’ visas. The single criteria most often registered when visas are granted are (in the following order): “previous visits to Schengen”, “visits to children” and “age 60 years and above”.

However, when quantitative techniques to examine relationships between selected criteria were applied, the project found that the following criteria were statistically significant in visa processing in the Foreign Service Missions:

  1. visits to children
  2. “happy-event related” visits (e.g. births, marriages etc)
  3. age over 60 years
  4. previous visits to Schengen
  5. leaving spouse and/or child behind in country of origin.

However, this is not the case for the applications processed by UDI.This suggests that there is a greater tendency in the Foreign Service Missions to employ selected criteria as standardized, codified criteria in the processing of family visitors’ visas. This also suggests that compared to the Foreign Service Missions, UDI seems to employ discretionary assessments to a greater degree.

The study also identifies several issues where improvements can be made that will increase the efficiency and quality of visa processing. The study includes recommendations regarding:

  • How information – written and oral – can be made more user-friendly, transparent and respectful, and how better to meet the recipients’ expectations.
  • A “checklist” of the most important criteria in visa processing and including this in all cases for the record, regardless of whether the visa application is granted or rejected.
  • “Profiles” of applicants or applications with selected criteria to test out in a pilot project whereby visa applications are sorted into smaller piles. This can kickstart the development of codified criteria in visa processing as a measure to improve the efficiency and quality of visa processing. This is probably the one single measure with the largest potential for improved internal efficiency. The pilot project should concentrate on applications from a few select countries. The results from the pilot project can also point out if there is a need for more advanced statistical methods with a larger empirical basis of visa applications.
  • More explicit communication between different levels of visa processing through reporting on visa decisions. This includes e.g. UDI preparing an annual analysis of the appeals which have been reversed or upheld; any visa practice adjustments suggested can then be put into a larger picture. The results of this analysis should be sent to the Foreign Service Missions.
  • A more user-friendly standard decision in reply to a visa application (for both visas granted or rejected) with two sections; one with a checklist of criteria fulfilled/insufficiently demonstrated, and another section where the Immigration Authorities briefly conclude how it has evaluated the relevant criteria. The legal basis for the visa decision can be included as an appendix.
  • The language used in a new standard of response to the application should continue to be English. However, the Immigration Authorities might consider using Norwegian for the legal basis if this can improve efficiency and quality in visa processing.

Visa decisions are the result of parallel discretionary assessments of likelihood of return on one hand, and welfare grounds on the other. It is not possible to separate the two parallel assessments. It is therefore not possible to be more specific about “weak” or “strong” definitions of likelihood of return; however, this study has some observations regarding which criteria influence visa decisions and which combination of criteria is represented most often when visas are granted. 7

Carried out bby: Long & Olsen

Commisioned by: UDI

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