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European Union on the spot over huge profits from rejected visas

The union continues to generate handsome profits while leaving several people in financial and emotional ruin arising from rejected visa applications.

The European Union has come under intense scrutiny for what has been described as a discriminatory visa regime to African and some Asian nations. African nations are particularly hit hard with seven out of ten countries with the most visa rejections being located in Africa. While Africans lament about the unfair application of visa laws, EU officials are laughing all the way to the bank. 

According to London-based research firm LAGO Collective, around 42% of the €130 million earned by the EU in 2023 from refused visa applications came from applicants living in Africa, despite the continent accounting for 24% of Schengen visa applications. A Semafor investigation reveals.

What is a Schengen Visa?

A Schengen visa is a visa that gives you access to 27 member countries in the Schengen Zone for 90 days. A Schengen visa costs 80 euros which is set to rise to 90 euros on June 11th, 2024 after the European Union increased the visa fee citing inflation in member states and rising costs involved in processing the visa.

Popular European tourist destinations like France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are all members of the Schengen Zone. According to current EU figures, more than 10.3 million applications for short-stay Schengen visas were submitted last year, representing a 37% rise over the year before. 

Most applications for the Schengen visa are handled by third parties like TLSContact and VFS Global which have been criticized for their exploitative practices and lack of transparency in their work. Privacy concerns have also been raised due to past data breaches that affected several of their customers and exposed sensitive information about visa applicants.

The numbers

According to Henley Partners, a major investment migration consultancy, which releases the famed passport rankings, Algeria is the country with the highest rejection rate when it comes to the issuance of Schengen visas. The country has a rejection of 45.8%. Guinea Bissau, despite having a handful of applicants, comes in second with a rejection rate of 45.2%. Nigeria closes the top three gap with a rejection rate of 45.1%. All top three countries are based in Africa.

Sri Lanka is the fourth on the list and the first non-African country on the list with a rejection rate of 43.7%. The Caribbean nation of Haiti makes an appearance on the list with a rejection rate of 42.3% despite having the lowest number of applicants in the top ten countries.

Pakistan is the only Asian country making an appearance in the top ten list and has the third largest number of applicants behind Algeria and Nigeria. The rejection rate in Pakistan stands at 40.5%.

Mehari Taddele Maru, a researcher at the EU-owned European University Institute in Italy, discovered that average rejection rates for African applicants are 10 percentage points higher than the global average. This points to a huge disparity and continues to affect many genuine visa applicants who get caught up in the bureaucratic process.

The case for immigration.

African migration to Europe is exacerbated by causes such as climate change’s effects on resources and productivity, limited economic possibilities in struggling economies, political instability, and violent conflict.

Most African immigration to Europe is via “regular channels” as opposed to the widely held belief that immigration is done via illegal channels. However, Africans seeking to visit Europe for short-term visits, such as business trips or conferences, continue to face a stumbling block when it comes to having their visa request accepted.

Some high-profile cases have caused outrage and fury and accusations of racism but the situation remains stubbornly static. Some high-profile doctors, journalists, business people, and activists have had their visas denied, delayed, or issued with punitive time limits.

Analysis of the problem.

An unofficial analysis of the disparity by several researchers, institutions, and universities discovered that visa issuance strongly correlates with the economic health of the country. Countries with higher GDP per capita tend to have it easier compared to those that don’t.

A cross-view of the top ten countries with the highest Schengen visa rejection rates reveals that no country has a GDP per capita of at least 5000 US dollars. According to the World Bank, those countries are all developing economies and hence more likely to have a higher rate of poverty. The World Bank expects a country to have a GDP per capita of at least 13,000 US dollars in order to be considered a “developed” economy. Quite a few countries in Africa have that status and it’s mostly the island micronations like Mauritius and Seychelles.

The EU on its part continues insisting that high rejection rates are sometimes the consequence of visitors overstaying their visas. There is no evidence to back the EU’s claim and higher rejection rates don’t cause a decrease in irregular migration or visa overstays. What can be deduced is an innate bias towards Africans and indicates a fundamental failure of a system supposed to be reciprocal and to facilitate, not impede short-term and temporary visits.

The situation is not expected to let up anytime soon as right-wing parties sweep national, regional, and European parliament seats riding on a wave of anti-immigration sentiments. Some countries like Sweden are hardening their immigration policies after being hit with a wave of unusually high criminality done by criminals with a migrant background.

Path forward

The EU’s expensive visas, which may disproportionately affect Africans, come as the bloc seeks to tighten its stance on migration. Several countries have seen a rise in nationalistic sentiments and right-wing parties have ridden the wave to win seats and rise to power. In the recently concluded EU parliament elections, right-leaning parties saw a huge gain in seats.

Several African business people, career professionals, artists, and other applicants for the EU’s short-term visa have led a clarion call for a reform of the approval process and requested transparency in the issuance of the visa and also addressing pertinent issues such as long waiting times and huge volume of paperwork needed to get a mere tourist visa for three months. They also urge European governments to walk the talk and ensure that systematic discrimination and visa apartheid are not the underlying cause of the disproportional numbers.

While EU members have the right to tighten the issuance of short-term visas to particular African nationals to dissuade and prevent misuse of short-term visas to illegally stay in the host countries, more paths of illegal migration should be opened.

Europe is increasingly aging, and labor gaps are widening in crucial sectors of the economy, particularly in health and care. Governments are trying hard to address this issue, but they are focused on doing it domestically.

Europe cannot afford to play the ‘hardcore‘ visa game with African countries; it is not in its long-term interests. When it comes to labor, trade, and expertise, Europe relies on Africa more than Africa does. With aid becoming less important to many African countries, Europe has few competitive advantages over what China and Russia have to offer. 

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Steve Williams
Steve Williams
Steve Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter, with a focus on narrative non-fiction stories about current affairs