Czech ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský has officially complained to the European Commission about persisting problems with issuing Czech visas to citizens in some post- Soviet countries. The ombudsman says that many people applying for long-term visas at Czech embassies in Kiev, Astana and elsewhere have been unable to even book appointments there, and that talks with Czech government officials have not fixed the problem.
The Czech Foreign Ministry launched the Visapoint system two years ago, hoping it would improve the process of issuing of long-term Czech visas. The online system allows foreigners to request an appointment at the local Czech embassy to present their applications, and is officially free of charge.
But applicants are often unable to register at the Visapoint website, and many therefore resort to getting their appointment with the help of middlemen, a practice the Czech ministry was seeking to uproot.
The problem, most prominent in countries like Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet states, has existed for over a year. Pavel Pořízek from the ombudsman’s office says talks with Czech government officials have failed to reach a solution which is why Ombudsman Varvařovský took the issue to the European Commission.
“At the end of February, the ombudsman met with people from the Interior and the Foreign Ministries. He was assured the Visapoint problem would be solved by the end of June. However, nothing has changed. That was the main reason why the ombudsman had followed up on his earlier warning, and in July he approached the European Commission over the matter.”
The ombudsman asked the European Commission to evaluate whether the situation is in breach of European law, a view held by Martin Rozumek, director of OPU, a Prague-based organization helping refugees.
“We believe there are certain categories of immigrants that must be accepted according to the current EU legislation and EU directives; at least, students on long-term visas and family members who are waiting outside the country should be allowed to join their families in the Czech Republic. We believe they benefit from the EU directives and they have, we may say, a right to enter and to come to the Czech Republic. So we expect the European Commission has reasons to act at least in regards to those two groups.”
Various immigrant and refugee advocacy groups have also warned about possible corruption within the immigration proceedings, accusing the Czech Foreign Ministry of inaction. On Friday, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg denied all corruption allegations, saying the ministry found no evidence of any illegal actions.
The Foreign Ministry says no statistics are kept of appointments made at Czech embassies and general consulates abroad. However, Pavel Pořízek from the ombudsman’s office says they have produced their own analysis to support their petition.
“We have been independently monitoring the system’s functionality so we were able to provide some data analysis to the European Commission. There are 14 charts of statistics documenting the Visapoint system malfunctions. Now, we are expecting the European Commission’s reaction.”
Each year, almost 26,000 non-EU citizens apply for long-term Czech visas. Nearly one half of the applicants come from Russia and Ukraine. There are no official quotas set for the number of permits released per year. But as some of the NGOs suggest, the malfunctioning system might in fact be a form of regulating the numbers of applications to consider.