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