Visitor’s visas in connection with family visits (2007)


Norwegian visa practice compared to a selection of Schengen countries.

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Visitor’s visas in connection with family visits. Norwegian visa practice compared to a selection of Schengen countries (pdf, 808 kB)

Abstract

All fifteen countries which are party to Schengen are bound by a set of common rules regarding visas. A condition in the Schengen Convention is harmonization of the visa practice among participating countries. Some European Union (EU) countries are not part of Schengen while some non-EU countries, like Norway, are part of Schengen,

Being part of Schengen implies that Norwegian visa regulations and practice today is not solely defined by the Norwegian Immigration Act; Norway also has to take Schengen visa rules into account.

The interviews conducted for this study illustrate an important analytical distinction in Schengen visa harmonization; between the harmonization of visa technicalities on the one hand and the harmonization of visa practice on the other. The process of Schengen harmonization has come further when it comes to the harmonization of visa technicalities compared to the harmonization of visa practice.

Local Consular Cooperation (LCC) between foreign service missions of Schengen countries at the same station plays a critical role in the process of Schengen harmonization. The quality of the Local Consular Cooperation (LCC) is dependent on many factors. For example, the institution of LCC is dependent on the level of organization and the ambitions of the Presidency. It is also vulnerable to changes in personnel at the various foreign service missions.

LCC in Ankara, Turkey can illustrate how it is possible to speed up the process of harmonization through working on concrete issues in sub-groups and through the exchange of local staff. Such best practices are also recommended in the EU publication “Schengen Catalogue of Recommendations and Best Practices regarding the issuing of visa”.

All participating countries, including Norway, experience tension in balancing (various) national interests and international obligations. In the last instance, however, national laws, policies and concerns influence the development of visa practice. This applies also to Norway.

The question of whether Norwegian visa practice is aligned with Schengen is not easy to answer: one reason is that comparable relevant statistics are not readily available. This study has therefore also constructed an exercise utilizing three “classical visa dilemmas”.

The Norwegian visa authorities have been criticized (by the Norwegian Parliamentary Ombudsman) for not demonstrating clearly that individual case considerations have led to rejections of visa applications. The Norwegian visa authorities have also been criticized (by non-governmental organizations) for high refusal rates for visa applications.

This study has therefore focused on both these issues by examining the visa practices of five Schengen countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium) in two locations (Ankara, Turkey and Islamabad, Pakistan). Some findings are:

  • None of the five countries in the study have systematic routines for uncovering visa abuse. Swedish national authorities regularly (every half year) publish statistics on certain types of visa abuse for all nationalities worldwide. These statistics are sent to Swedish foreign service missions. Danish national authorities have a system whereby some categories of family visitors might be issued a visitor’s visa if there is a financial guarantee. Danish statistics regarding the number of guarantees which are forfeited could to some extent be read as statistics for visa abuse.
  • There is no consensus regarding the definition for visa abuse – neither internally among the Norwegian visa authorities nor for Schengen as a whole. The Swedish and Danish examples above refer to different phenomena.
  • It seems as though persons perceived as bona fide1 applicants by all five countries, including Norway, have the highest chance of so-called “individual case considerations”.
  • When applicants are not perceived as bona fide, countries that are employing relatively more discretionary assessments (Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands) arrive at conclusions for individual cases using all the information available, including information based on previous general experience – on the country in question, on local and regional knowledge, about the applicant’s family’s migration history, about the applicant’s socio-profile etc. It seems as though among the countries in the study, these three countries pay most attention to so-called substantial humanitarian reasons in the processing of visa applications.
  • Denmark and Belgium have a relatively more codified visa practice compared to the three other countries in the study. In addition, the Danish and Belgian embassies only have the competency to issue visas to bona fide applicants. This means that cases which are not perceived as bona fide are sent back to the national visa authorities in Copenhagen and Brussels respectively.
  • In Copenhagen, a codified visa practice – which is approved by the political leadership – details how various family categories are to be handled. In addition, all countries are assigned to one of four categories. Pakistan is considered “Category 1”2 and Turkey “Category 2a” 3. The visa practice for Category 1 countries is the strictest. The visa practice regarding which family members may visit Denmark also varies depending on the country category.
  • In Brussels, if the general experience is that nine out of ten instances of a certain type of case have abused visa conditions, the general guiding principle is that the authorities have no way of knowing if the case before them is "a no.10". As a rule, family visitors are treated generously, but the advice of Belgian diplomatic representations and document files in Brussels steer the final decision. Earlier abuses are taken in account; new applications from a person who has abused visas before are scrutinized closely.
  • The Belgian visa practice has a definition of “close family” which is broader than those of the other countries in the study.
  • Only statistics for Schengen short stay (type C) are readily available. Statistics for family visitor’s visas - a subcategory of type C - are not. This makes it difficult to study visa practice regarding family visitor’s visas.
  • One general finding is that the refusal rates in Pakistan are on the whole higher for all countries than they are for Turkey. This applies also to Norway. This could be a reflection of Schengen harmonization regarding the e.g. perceived differences in security and immigration risk issues for the two countries.
  • However, the Norwegian refusal rate in Ankara is “average” for the Schengen countries in this study while the Norwegian refusal rate in Islamabad is the highest. In the same vein, Sweden has a high refusal rate in Turkey but the lowest one in Pakistan while Denmark has the lowest refusal rate in Turkey but an “average” refusal rate in Pakistan. How can we go about trying to understand the critical factors which could account for such a situation?

The study examines some hypotheses to account for rates of refusal. In particular,

  • how the proportion of family visitor’s visa applications (of Schengen C-visas) affects refusal rates,
  • how the size of the Turkish and the Pakistani diaspora in the selected countries affects refusal rates,
  • how registration routines for complete and incomplete application files affect refusal rates.

After examining the statistics available, this study concludes that refusal rates at the Norwegian embassies in Ankara and Islamabad cannot be conclusively accounted for by the three hypotheses above.

The “classical dilemmas” exercise revealed that there are many national factors which play a critical role in the processing of family visitor’s visas e.g. regarding the definition of “close family”, regarding the emphasis put on the credibility of the applicant or of the sponsor etc.

In this limited exercise, Norway and Sweden are the two countries in both Ankara and Islamabad which would seem to be most “harmonized” with each other judged by the conclusions drawn at the end of the “dilemma” exercise. However, this study also shows that even between Norway and Sweden, there are critical differences e.g. in the visa policy towards siblings.

In order to gain insight in “Schengen harmonization” it is necessary to understand the mechanisms which are hidden behind seemingly neutral and objective statistics. The combination of the statistical examination of the three hypotheses above and the “classical dilemma” exercise show that refusal rates are, at best, uncertain indicators of the degree of “Schengen harmonization” or the lack of it.

Put differently, the high refusal rate at the Norwegian embassy in Islamabad does not necessarily mean that Norway is “not harmonized with Schengen”. Similarly, the average refusal rate at the Norwegian embassy in Ankara does not necessarily mean that Norway is “harmonized with Schengen”.

The term “Schengen harmonization” needs to be further deconstructed to issues like “visa fee”, “travel insurance”, “visitor’s visas for parents”, visitor’s visas for siblings” etc and a comparison would need to be made across selected countries in order to map “Schengen harmonization” in detail. This study does not provide such a detailed map, but it suggests some areas which might be fruitful to study further.

Finally, the study identifies some choices ahead for Norwegian visa authorities and politicians, and some recommendations regarding ways of going forward.

Carried out by: Long og Olsen

Commisioned: UDI

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