March 5. 2024. 8:52

The Daily

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Investigation reveals violations of EU Visa Code for Kosovo citizens


Kosovo citizens face a number of hurdles and obstacles, including those that violate the EU’s Visa Code, at the hands of private visa processing companies when applying to enter member states, according to an investigation by Kosovo 2.0.

Citizens of Kosovo require a visa to enter any country in the EU, although visa liberalisation was approved by the European Council at the end of 2022 and will be implemented by 1 January 2024.

The investigation found that many citizens had faced fees, delays, and inflated costs in violation of the EU’s Visa Code, but there was little recourse available.

According to the Visa Code, which regulates visa application procedures for EU countries, it is essential to ensure the “human dignity and integrity of applicants” are respected. None of the more than a dozen Kosovars Kosovo 2.0 interviewed were aware of the code, which is not available in the Albanian language.

Between 2013 and 2015, most EU countries outsourced visa application processing for Kosovars to two private companies, TLScontact, headquartered in Paris and VFS Global headquarters in Dubai.

The former processes applications in Kosovo for Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria, France, Belgium and the Netherlands for short-term visa applications. The latter processes applications for Sweden, Norway, Finland, Slovenia and Croatia. Germany outsources its visa applications from Kosovo to VisaMetric, registered in Kosovo, in 2021.

When asked by Kosovo 2.0 why they outsourced visa applications to private companies, they listed a shortage of resources, helping process increased applications and a desire to improve service standards.

But many Kosovars found that the process had deteriorated and the wait time increased.

“In recent years, the wait has been prolonged. In the last two years, it has been a catastrophe,” said Fitore Gashi, a web developer currently living in Germany.

The Visa Code states that a visa appointment must be made in two weeks, although Kosovars typically wait between one and five months. Furthermore, decisions must be made within 15 days, but again, this was not the case.

The private companies did not respond to Kosovo 2.0’s requests for comment, with the exception of TLScontact, and embassies said that wait times were being reduced but admitted some delays remained.

But getting appointments is easier for those who are prepared to pay extra. VFS sells a service where applicants can submit their applications on a day of their choosing and receive one-on-one assistance for €30. They also charge €12 for submitting applications outside working hours. TLScontact and VisaMetric offer similar services.

But applicants said that some of these services are mandatory. One applicant, Kaltrina Hoxha, was charged a €30 VIP courier service by VisaMetric despite living in the same building as the office.

The Visa Code states that the service fee paid to the visa application processor must not exceed €40, but it is unclear if the requirement for applicants to pay €60 for the combined service and courier fees violates the Visa Code or not.

Between 2014 and 2021, Kosovars submitted around 600,000 Schengen visa applications, about 20% of which were rejected. According to the report, the cost of an application can range between and average of €165 and up to €500, according to one interviewee in a country where the average salary is €491.

According to the latest data from the Kosovo Agency of Statistics, the average public sector monthly income in Kosovo is €542. The average private sector salary is €376.

Though the Visa Code includes provisions for fee waivers for a wide range of cultural and educational visits (particularly for those under the age of 25), many Kosovars who are entitled to these waivers said they ended up paying anyway.

TLScontact said they do not include information on fee waivers on their website because it relates “to decisions taken by our government client, not by TLScontact. Information is available on the government website.”

The Swedish Embassy, which VFS processes visas for, said that “the Embassy makes sure that the right fees are paid, and that fee waivers are applied. The Embassy assists VFS if they have questions when someone applies and ensures that fees are reimbursed if a mistake has been made.”

VisaMetric’s website includes information only about fee waivers due to age.

Even when Kosovars get a visa, they are sometimes issued ones with durations of stay or periods of validity shorter than the Visa Code calls for.

The Visa Code states that “the period of validity of a visa for one entry shall include a ‘period of grace of 15 calendar days” and includes an example of what the grace period calculation looks like: “date of arrival + duration of stay + 15 days of ‘period of grace.’”

K2.0 has seen visas granted to Kosovars from EU member states with periods of validity of seven days and durations of stay as short as four days.

Short validities and durations of stay for visas can be anxiety-inducing because a cancelled or delayed flight, or another unforeseen event, can cause a visa-holder to overstay their Schengen visa, which may prevent them from receiving a visa in the future.

(Alice Taylor | EURACTIV.com, Aulone Kadriu | Kosovo 2.0, Vjosa Musliu | Kosovo 2.0)