Monday, 25 March 2013

The Art Of Obtaining Schengen Visa For The European Union

KIEV, Ukraine -- Did you ever wonder what is like to obtain a Schengen visa for a citizen of country that is not a member of European Union? I will show you by example, as a citizen of Ukraine. The Schengen visa covers travel between its 25 member countries (22 European Union states and 3 non-EU members). Traveling on a Schengen visa means that the visa holder can travel to any (or all) member countries using one single visa, thus avoiding the hassle and expense of obtaining individual visas for each country. This is particularly beneficial for persons who wish to visit several European countries on the same trip. The Schengen visa is a “visitor visa” and is issued to citizens of countries who are required to obtain a visa before entering Europe. I am an Ukrainian citizen. First of all I need to mention that I received an invitation from Poland to attend the TTG Travel Outbound Travel Exhibition and accordingly, I needed to apply for a visa via the Consulate of Poland. In my case, and to reduce the processing, I applied only for the Polish Visa in Donetsk, Ukraine at the Polish visa application center. What is a visa application center? It is just a local firm that officially provides the service of processing applications of visas and redirecting it to the closest consulates depending on the location. If you choose to apply through a visa application center, then you only contact this firm, and you collect your passport again also from this center without having to visit the consulates or embassies. Before I began collecting necessary documents, I made a few calls to a call center to the Donetsk visa application center for Poland. After hours of conversations with consultants of this center, they convinced me that for my business visa, I needed not only the invitation to the event in Poland, but the bookings confirmation and prepayment receipts for hotels in poland would be important in the decision of the consulate to grant my visa. I was told to bring documents to prove the trip was prepaid. After all these preparations, I scheduled my visit to the visa center and arrived in Donetsk at about 5:30 AM. It's a 2 hour bus ride from my hometown to Donetsk. By 9:40 AM I was at the visa center located in a big office plaza in the heart of the city. The visa application center is not big room where you can find seats for visitors. There is a desk with application forms, and 3 windows, like in banks. One window is for obtaining documents and two are to actually apply for the visa. When my turn came and I took a seat at one of the windows, the representative who accepts documents asked me the first question. Do you have insurance? I responded, not yet. She proposed that I obtain the insurance immediately, which could be done in the same room at the different desk where you can find a manager of an insurance company. It took me less than 5 minutes to get the insurance, and I went back to the application window where the worker looked up my documents and told me they are fine. She didn’t like the hotel document, because it indicated it was prepaid only for the first night and not 30% of the entire stay period. Also, the document did not show the price of one day and how much was charged, despite the fact that the transaction was done with a scanned check. So the outcome was that she didn’t accept this hotel document. She then told me that I only needed to apply for a business visa, and for that I only needed the invitation. I told her I knew that and I had the invitation, but I wanted to know why the call center consultants gave me different information about the list of documents required. She didn’t say anything, just started to look through the other documents. She stared at my invitation and then proclaimed, “Its a copy! You printed it from a computer! It’s not possible to accept for processing.” I agreed with her that it was not an original with a wet stamps and signature, but with the event only one week away, there was no time for those inviting me to deliver original documents to me. This was an invitation from a big firm that never sent original invitations and believed it was fine to email invitations. The worker, however, remained adamant and also said that I should ask for a visa for 8 days even though the event in invitation was only for 2 days. In trying to help, she advised me that the only thing possible to do now in this situation was to have the firm inviting me send a fax. She told me to ask my host to change the dates of the invitation to match the dates in my application. She told me I could ask someone in the shopping plaza to let me use a fax machine. I was in shock. Where would I find a fax? Who would let me use their fax? Would the firm fax the invitation in time, and would they even fax it? I visited few offices in the building and found an insurance company that said that I could use their fax but only if I bought insurance for my trip from them. I had to agree, and after calling my host in Poland, I did successfully receive the fax. With a happy smile I returned to the room with the three windows. The worker took 2-3 minutes to read the fax, and then she asked, “Will your host confirm that they invited you if someone from the Consulate decides to call there?” I answered, “Yes.” Next she gave me invoices and a little map showing the way to a bank. I was instructed that I had to do my transaction at this bank only. The bank was located about 30 minutes away by foot from the visa center, which I only found out after having walked half hour to get there. At the bank I paid the 35 euro ($45) visa fee, a 35 euro payment for expedited consideration of the application, 20 euro ($26) for insurance, plus a 20 euro payment for the visa center. The cashier was quick, I got my stamped invoices, and I headed back to the office plaza. I was back at the window again and the worker checked my documents and invoices. The most interesting thing I noted is that she made a photocopy of the fax to attach to my application and gave the original back to me, yet she could not accept the printed copy of the invitation from a computer. I am told that the good news is that my passport will be back at the visa application center after 4 days at 10:00 AM. This was he day my flight left for Poland. The bad news is that I won’t know if the visa was approved until I arrived at the visa application center to get my passport back. I guess it was meant to be a surprise, kind of like a lottery. Will there be a visa or won’t there be a visa? That is the question. The workers at the visa application center know that I had a flight the same day. In addition they warned me that all passports may not arrive in time if there is a snowstorm. This winter there has been a lot of scandals at visa application centers, because people arrived to get their passports with little or no time to catch a flight. On the day of my departure, I arrived at the visa application center at 3:00 PM. Fortunately, everything was successful, and I received my visa. I have shown you only one example – mine – of applying for a Schengen visa to Poland. Perhaps the consulates and visa centers of other countries under the Schengen agreement have a better situation with the terms and rules, but Poland is commonly known as one of the most loyal countries of requirements of documents for Ukrainians. Definitely the system invented for getting this small visa sticker on your passport requires significant improvement.

No comments: