Valentine Novytska | Lviv
Today, we'll talk about corruption that became commonplace for those willing to go abroad without much hassle. And those for whom it has become a lucrative and not capital-intensive business. Who benefits from this, who turns blind eye to this, and those who want to remedy the situation.
"No to Corruption!" looked into how the citizens of Ukraine obtain Polish visa and the improvements offered by Poland on the way.
In 2005, journalists of Gazeta Wyborcza and Lvivska Gazeta teamed up to conduct a joint investigation to find out how intermediaries can help jump the visa queue at the Consulate General of Poland in Lviv, and how through the same intermediary can obtain a short-term visa without an invitation.
The Consul of Poland in Lviv had to admit to journalists that the Consulate was "aware of the situation" with intermediaries. He said, however, that his hands were tied, because, in particular, the queue was formed outside the Consulate walls, i.e. on the territory of Ukraine and hence within the jurisdiction of Ukrainian authorities. In the meantime, the police said they can not bust intermediaries until some conscious citizens deliver them into the hands of justice - or at least write a statement. As a result of the joint investigation, the journalists got a Polish visa after having paid USD 40 under a "simplified procedure". No further unraveling of this knot followed.
That was back in 2005. Nine years later, "the cart remains there still", in the words of an old fable. Says Lviv resident Lessia that has obtained a Polish visa, "It is practically impossible to book an appointment! The procedure is you've got to register in an online electronic system before submitting your visa application. So, when I tried to sign in, I kept getting the message "All terms are busy for the nearest month". I kept trying for two weeks, and the result was the same - nil. I called the Consulate to ask whether all the terms were really busy - just to be told that they did not know as everything goes through the online system. Finally, I realized it was all to no avail. I found a web site of intermediaries and got myself a visa. Yes, I did overpay. It cost me USD 200 - but my time is more expensive."
Lesia's friend Sophia, a resident of Striy, became the proud owner of Polish Schengen visa after she has paid an intermediary UAH 450 for just signing up at the online visa service. She did the rest of the job herself, which she regrets now. She believes she would better pay up USD 200 like her friend did and save herself all the trouble.
Lviv citizens willingly pay the intermediaries and are not at all ashamed to admit it. On the Internet, one can find dozens of phones of people that offer mediation, modestly calling them "consultation services". Just google up for "Polish visa purchase" and the search will immediately return a dozen websites offering such services. Like this site, for example:
Currently, the website of the Consulate General of Poland in Lviv warns of the following deadlines for submission of visa applications: to register at the consulate by June 20, one has to wait until June 6, to sign up via the call center – until June 16.
Most Liviv residents perceive obtaining a Schengen visa as a true ordeal. Sometimes unfair. Sometimes humiliating. Little wonder then they prefer paying an intermediary to get a visa by book or by crook, rather than going by the procedure. Especially when the intermediary promises to resolve the problem within days, without unnecessary paperwork, and most importantly – without the presence of the future visa holder. However, personal attendance is not obligatory only for a short-term tourist visa. If we are talking about a business visa, work or multiple entry visa, the middle-person will ask you to show up at the consulate but will try and make your visit enjoyable and comfortable.
Changes in Poland's visa policy
Recently, Poland has simplified visa regime for Ukrainian tourists. Starting May 15 this year, the citizens of Ukraine who have had short-term tourist visas, will receive a one-year multiple entry visa, and citizens who apply for a Schengen visa for the first time, get a double-entry six-month visa.
Also, Poland seriously simplified issuing visas to persons that have been resettled from Poland and their descendants under the Agreement between the Polish National Salvation Committee and the Government of the USSR on the evacuation of Polish citizens from the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian population of Poland as of September 9, 1944. Such individuals may apply for a two-year visa (if no visa history) and five-year visa (if any).
Life was also made much easier for Ukrainian residents of border towns, especially the so-called "shuttlers". The new policy envisages a 90-day period of stay within the border zone since the date of each entry; cancellation of fees for issuing permits for Ukrainians that cross the border for second time and subsequent times; the removal of an insurance policy from the list of localborder traffic requirements for the citizens of Ukraine; and extension of the list of settlements within the 30km zone, that have not been included therein before.
In addition, the Consul General of Poland in Lviv Jaroslaw Drozd said Consulate General in Lviv introduces a new method of registration for visa applicants.
From June 1, the date of submission will be issued only after the applicant pays service the service fee equivalent to EUR 18.5. This fee can be paid only at a Lviv branch of Polish Idea Bank or Credo bank. Upon payment of the service fee, the bank issues a receipt with personal customer ID, which specifies the date and time for submission of visa documents. First visas under the new procedure are planned to be issued in mid-July.
Jaroslaw Drozd told a press conference that the Consulate will try and cut intermediaries "For over two and a half years, we have asked the local government to help us eliminating illegal mediation in the visa process. At first, we introduced online registration. But Ukrainian "geeks", who are very well versed in their field, managed to sign in "dead souls" [to jam the system]. A real applicant could not get access to the register without mediation. Then we returned to the previous methods and introduced registration by phone, but mediators managed to get control of that as well. From July 1, we introduce a new registration system."
However, the consul admitted that he wasn't sure that intermediaries would not sway the new registration system, so the best method to eliminate intermediaries would be the introduction of a visa-free regime with Ukraine.
It should be noted that the Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski during his visit to Kyiv said his country was hoping for visa-free regime to be introduced between Ukraine and the European Union by the middle of 2015, provided Ukraine fulfills all the necessary requirements.
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has recently passed the legislation necessary for the transition to the second phase of the Action Plan on visa liberalization with the EU.
Valentyna Novitska, "No to Corruption!"
Fact file: 2012 saw the biggest corruption scandal in Ukraine related to improper issuance of Polish visas, when the Foreign Ministry of Poland sacked the entire staff of the Polish Consulate in Lutsk, and the Consul General was removed from office. The employees of the Consulate of Poland in Lutsk and a local entrepreneur knocked together a criminal group, which for several years was engaged in the creation of artificial lines outside the Consulate, and monopolized arranging for Polish visas for 300 to 900 euros.
The Ukrainian version see here