Kyiv, September 16, 2015. The results of monitoring visa practices of the Schengen member states for Crimean residents demonstrated a lack of information about obtaining a Schengen visa in Ukraine. “People in the Crimean peninsula do not have sufficient access to free specific information,” said Iryna Sushko, Head of the Europe without Barriers Civic Association, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. According to the monitoring results, this information is available only on five Schengen member states websites (namely Germany, Greece, Estonia, France and Poland). Kateryna Kulchytska, Europe without Barriers analyst, said that lack of information on the websites creates serious difficulties for the Crimeans. “The most convenient way for them to get information is via Internet but, unfortunately, only five countries provide it,” she said. The Crimeans cannot find information about processing a Schengen visa on the notice boards of embassies and Schengen member states visa centers in Kyiv either.
At the same time, commercial companies bypass the EU ban to issue Schengen visas to Crimean residents in Russia and offer their alternative services. Some, in particular, offer mediation services for submitting passports for visas in Rostov-on-Don or Moscow, allowing Crimeans to hide their actual place of residence and obtain a visa in the way other Russian citizens do. The cost of such services is on average of 13,000 rubles (about 4,300 USD). Others offer similar services, even obtaining a visa in the Russian passport issued in the Crimea. According to these companies’ employees, there is even a “guaranteeing countries” list, which shall issue such visas for 600-1100 Euros. However, the latest version is temporarily unavailable due to collecting biometric data for Schengen visas, which started in Russia on September 14.
In March 2014, the EU banned issuing any kind of European visas, including Schengen visas, in embassies and the EU visa centers in Russia to the Crimean residents. To obtain a visa, the Crimean residents should contact a State Embassy in the territory of Ukraine and produce a Ukrainian foreign passport. In some cities they can apply to a consulate or visa application center (e.g., a Greece and Poland Schengen visa in Odessa, a Germany visa in Kiev, a Czech visa in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa).
Kulchytska noted that for internally displaced people (IDPs) living in Ukrainian mainland, it is much easier to get information about obtaining visas, than for those who remained in Crimea. For the latter it is more expensive to call the consulate in Ukraine and more difficult to come to the consulate to apply. In view of so many, there is a number of visa companies in Crimea that offer their paid services, and it is absolutely fine that people agree to use this option. “This shadow services market indicates that not all the EU consulates follow the rules set by them. Unfortunately, double standards still exist,” noted Sushko. She stressed that such a practice not only creates favorable conditions for corruption in issuing visas but also poses certain threats to the security of both Ukraine and the EU, as it reduces the possibility to check the applicant’s identity and the trip purpose.
“The issuance of Schengen visas to Ukrainian citizens, who hold Russian passports, is a challenge to our country security. If these people immigrate and remain there, the question will arise whether they are citizens of Ukraine or Russia. And this may provoke accusations that migration risks of our country are increasing and pose a challenge for the European Union,” said Sushko. So far, according to Europe without Barriers experts, there were no cases of refusing Crimeans a visa because they may be potential refugees. They must submit the same documents as all citizens of Ukraine.
Europe without Barriers experts recommend Schengen member states embassies and consulates to provide adequate information to citizens about the possibility of obtaining Schengen visas and increase the number of visa centers. The Ukrainian government should attract European colleagues’ attention to the problem of visa brokers and the practice of issuing visas to the Crimean residents with Russian foreign passports.