Getting Shengen visa to become a real ordeal for Russians
To make the struggle against terrorism and illegal migration more effective, the European Union toughens the visa regime for the third world citizens beginning with the next year. This will first of all concern people in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, those countries where the getting visa procedures are quite long today. The innovation means that now the procedure may take even several months there. Thus, the EU may in fact nullify a treaty on simplification of mutual trips of citizens from Russia and CIS signed in May.
British Interior Minister Charles Clarke voiced the idea of toughing the visa regime at a European Parliament session in Strasbourg. He said the initiative is connected with introduction of biometric passports with information about retina, dactylogram and other data in EU beginning with 2007. The European Union will conclude agreements with Russia and Ukraine according to which illegal migrants coming to EU from their territories will be deported.
Today, getting a Shengen visa make take weeks, and in the future the procedure will probably take several months for Russians and other CIS citizens. This will also entail registration of more documents and interviews of many hours. Russians now present many documents concerning their paying capacity, medical insurance, passports for foreign trips, round-trip tickets, invitations and others, and also pay 30-60 euro of consular fee and only after that can apply for a visa to EU countries. Many of EU countries also organize additional interviews for applicants which entails providing more documents. When this is successfully completed, you may be rejected a visa without explaining the reason. From now on, Russians will have to make a pay call to be down for visa registration. Switzerland that joins the Shengen treaty in 2007 and Holland have already introduced the innovation as concerning Russians. It is easier to get visa to Eastern Europe countries that joined the EU just recently, but it is likely that getting a visa to visit these countries will be also more difficult soon.
EU officials give no sufficient reason explaining why the getting visa procedure is made tougher. They say that Russian and Ukrainian passports are easy for forging and that the borders are not secure enough. This is true to some extent: the Russian border with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan is easy for passing which allows illegal migrants from poor Asian countries invade Russia and Europe as well. Russia President Vladimir Putin already emphasized the problem and even demanded that the border with the mentioned countries must be closed. This is also true that the share of forged passports is rather high in Russia, and the crime rate here is higher than in Europe.
But this is just the reverse of the medal. Honest Russians with not very high incomes but wishing to see European sights have no chance to get to Europe. But those who break the law and have much money may easily get there by bribing consulate officials. Germany has already recognized that its consulate offices are too corrupt; the country has already launched investigations of machinations with granting visas at German consulate offices in Russia and Ukraine.
EU also fears that cheap manpower from former Soviet republics may flood European countries. But this is a rather weak argument because it is well-known that Russians and Ukrainians speak foreign languages badly, that Russian and Ukrainian diplomas are seldom recognized abroad which poses serious problems with getting a job there. At the same time, people from former colonies in Asia, Africa and Latin America, sometimes criminals and terrorists, may easily get to Europe. Is Mr. Clarke unaware of the fact?
So, the visa regime toughening seems to be a purely political innovation. Governments of European countries employ the granting visas procedure as leverage to exert more pressure upon the Russian authority which line and interests often disagrees with those of Europe. From time to time, Europe signs declarations meant to simplify the visa regime. In May after celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Victory Day in Moscow, a document was signed between the EU and Russia on forming common cultural, scientific, legal and civil spaces. According to the document, the visa regime must be softened for Russia and then absolutely abolished. But Europe still will not recognize diplomas and qualification certificates issued in Russia. If the decision to toughen the visa regime for Russians is final, the treaty may be given up for lost.
The Shengen visa barrier is a serious obstacle basically for those friendly Russians who want to know about culture and history of European countries. Thus European politicians give Russians no chance to see that Europe is more than just a group of Russophobe politicians. Problems with getting visas will only increase the number of Russians negatively minded toward Europe. It is not yet clear whether Russia with its vast territories needs a visa-free regime for traveling to Europe. But today the long getting visa procedure is also a serious problem for Russian-speaking citizens of Europe to maintain contacts with relatives in CIS.
Thus Europe demonstrates it prefers double standards in the relations with Russia. On the one hand, toughening of the visa regime with Russia will make millions of Russian-speaking Europeans indignant; they do have the right to visit their native land without problems. On the other hand, EU will have a huge neighbor which citizens will be negatively minded towards EU despite its obvious advantages.