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4 June, 2012  ▪  Zhanna Bezpiatchuk,  Inna Zavhorodnya

Unspoken Visa Rules

The widespread attitude to Ukraine as a corrupt, failing and ever more authoritarian state is also transferred to its citizens

A Schengen visa in a passport does not necessarily mean that Ukrainians can travel wherever they like in the EU. Seven Ukrainians learned this when they had to interrupt their weekend tour, in spite of having multiple entry visas. In March, the police stopped them at the Polish-German border near Herlitz because their visas were for business trips, while they declared that the purpose of their trip was tourism. Six of them were unable to confirm the legality of their visas, resulting in their annulment.

This incident revealed contradictions in the EU Visa Code, which does not allow for two valid Schengen visas at a time, since it is only possible to apply for another visa after the previous one has expired or has been cancelled. According to the German police, the Ukrainians should have cancelled their multi entry business visas in order to obtain a single entry tourist visa.

MISTRUST AND DISRESPECT

Viktor Yarsky’s trip to Germany for the christening of his brother’s baby resulted in a night at the police station and a hypertension stroke. On 13 January, German border police stopped him to check his documents as he was crossing the border from Poland into Germany in his car.  He had three other men in the car, including his brother who had lived in Germany on a permanent basis for years. All of the Ukrainians had valid multi entry visas and Viktor had a business visa. They were going to spend a weekend in Nuremberg and return for a business meeting in Warsaw on Monday. Without any explanations or introducing themselves, the police arrested all of them. “They said that we supposedly applied to the Polish Consulate to conduct business with the country just to use the visa for different purposes later,” Viktor shares. He did not feel well at the police station but the officers did not hurry to provide him with any medical assistance, claiming that he was faking it. It was only after numerous requests and the assurance that Viktor would be able to pay for a doctor’s, that one was finally called.

“I got my visa at the Polish Consulate in Lviv,” Viktor says. “I had a personal interview. Once I had my visa, I travelled to Poland several times and spent the New Year’s holiday in Hungary and never had any problems. The interpreter at the police station told me that it would be best to admit my guilt, have my visa cancelled and be sent home from Berlin by plane. I asked them to contact the Ukrainian Consulate but she said that it did not bother dealing with us and the sooner I admitted that I had broken the law, the better, because my friends had already signed everything”. Earlier, an employee of the German visa center in Lviv had assured Viktor that his valid business visa allowed him to travel to Germany for a weekend. After 24 hours of interrogations by the police from one shift followed by those from the next shift, strip searches, the confiscation of belongings, talking to the lawyer hired by his brother and confirmation of the validity of invitations for Viktor and his companions by the Polish businessman who gave them, the police released the Ukrainians without a word of apology.  

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Dmytro Kliukai, a student deported from the EU, was not familiar with the rules of Schengen travel either. Having a 90-day C-category multi entry visa to visit his godfather from the Polish Consulate, Dmytro stayed at his godfather’s for short time with his father, then a day later, went on a vacation to Spain.  “Once we crossed the German border, the police stopped us and checked our documents, which was when the fun began.” Dmytro recalls his Herlitz experience. “They asked us about our destination and the purpose of our visit. Eventually, I had to show them my college thesis on the laptop to prove that I was a student at an art college and was not going to stay and work illegally in Spain. In court, they said they believed that I was a student but that I had misused my Polish visa to travel to Spain. With a Polish visa, I was supposed to stay at least 70-80% of the time in Poland, they said, and then I could travel around Europe a little.”

After this, Dmytro’s adventures were in no way different from the fate of a captured criminal; he was fingerprinted, searched, transported in handcuffs and had an eight-day wait prior to being deported to Ukraine. He had EUR 200 with him, of which EUR 150 was confiscated and he was allowed to keep EUR 50 to cover his travel expenses. As a 21-year old, Dmytro did not have the opportunity to appeal to the German court, nor could he afford to pay the EUR 2,500 fine determined by the court. In addition, he could be banned from traveling to Germany and the Schengen Area for up to 10 years. Data on deportations is entered into the Schengen Information System (SIS) used by EU member-state embassies to find personal visa records.

A TRICKY PROVISION

The Ukrainian Week asked the German Embassy to comment on the deportation of the Ukrainian student. It cited Art.5 of the EU Visa Code that provides for a visa to be issued by an EU member- state, the territory of which is the only purpose of the trip. For trips with several destinations – the state, the territory of which is the primary destination of the trip as far as the duration and purpose of the visit is concerned. Art.5 also offers a third option: the visa can be issued by an EU member-state, the borders of which the applicant crosses when entering Schengen territory, provided that the key destination is impossible to determine.

The Ukrainian Week has learned from the Press Service of the Federal Police Presidium in Potsdam that “Foreign citizens who are unable to confirm the purpose of their stay in Schengen states when checked by German authorities, raise the suspicion fraudulently-obtained visas. German legislation qualifies this as a breach of the law. The visa is invalidated and the detained holders have to leave the Schengen Area. The relevant authorities have powers to do this”.

“If your visa lists one purpose that changes during the trip, you should be prepared for the same as what happened to the Ukrainian student,” comments Iryna Sushko, President of the Europe without Barriers NGO. “Moreover, his visa said that he was visiting “close relatives”, a privileged category, hence this much attention. If he were a researcher or an athlete, the authorities could have understood why he had to travel around the Schengen Area”.

Ukrainians faced controls at an internal Schengen border, which supposedly does not exist. “We also check people from third countries with Finnish, German or Lithuanian visas,” Rafal Walski, Poland’s Consul General, tells The Ukrainian Week. “There is nothing abnormal about this. Control practice at internal borders can only exist in private cases but it’s not a general rule. As to cases concerning Ukrainian citizens, our colleagues from Ukrainian consular offices should complain about the violated rights of Ukrainians to the relevant German authorities.”  

The Ukrainian Week drew the attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to the Dmytro Kliukai incident. Representatives of the Ukrainian Embassy in Germany talked to the German authorities and discovered that documents confirming the purpose of the trip, such as a travel voucher, confirmation of a hotel reservation etc., could have saved Dmytro from being deported. But compliance with this norm is not always possible. Dmytro was traveling to Spain in a private car with his father to stay in the latter’s home, so he had no tickets, travel vouchers or hotel reservation. The only document he could provide was his father’s written invitation. For some reason, the fact that his father was right next to him failed to convince German law enforcement officers.

“If Dmytro had stayed in Poland for a month before traveling to Spain, I’m sure there would have been no problem,” Ms. Sushko says. “Otherwise, the question arises of why he hadn’t applied for a Spanish visa in the first place?” she wonders and immediately answers: “It’s easier to get a visa at certain consulates than at others, although this is all very relative.”

WHY CHEAT?

Ukrainians sin because they tend not to trust their own country. In contrast, European states build their relations with its citizens based on trust, which is why deception is punished so severely. At the same time, the visa practice at the consulates of EU member-states is often what pushes Ukrainians to misrepresentation.  Olena Polnariova, a Reckitt Benckiser employee, spent much time and money to go on a week-long business trip to Bratislava. “I was going to stay in Bratislava on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and return to Vienna on Thursday where I had a stopover, and remain there till Sunday,” she says. “The agency that helped me prepare my documents told me that I wouldn’t get a visa for this. If I applied to the Slovakian Consulate, I would have to spend more time in that country than in another. So, it wouldn’t work out if I told them I was going to Slovakia for three days and to Vienna for four. One of the options they proposed was to make a fictitious reservation at a hotel in Bratislava for the duration of my trip, apply for a visa with it, then cancel the booking once I had the visa. I didn’t do this because it was disagreeable and degrading. I still don’t understand why I can’t spend four days in Vienna after a three-day business trip to Bratislava.”

The widespread attitude to Ukraine as a corrupt, failing and ever more authoritarian state is also transferred to its citizens. This means that in the short-term, they will have to learn to play by the rules, even if they are unspoken. It is only with better awareness and the avoidance of the deliberate abuse of visa rules that it will be possible to reduce the risk of unwanted problems when traveling abroad. 


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