As many of you know, some of our members still need a visa to get to most of our events and travelling for them is not as common as for most others. We, as Visa Freedom Working Group (VFWG), have asked one of our members about her experience of applying for a visa and what she has to do to obtain one. This especially focuses on the Schengen Area visas where most of our events take place.
What is your name, from which antenna are you and since when?
My name is Olga Iatsyna and I’m member of AEGEE-Dnipropetrovsk since 2008.
How many times have you travell to AEGEE events in the past?
At first, it was once per year, then twice. But after becoming Network Commissioner I became an addict and travel almost every month.
When do you need to obtain a visa?
I do not need a visa to travel to any country from the former Soviet Union, but I always need a Schengen visa for any other country.
How long does it take for you to obtain a visa? Please name some examples of what you have to do before the embassy takes your application for a visa into progress?
On average it takes around one week from the moment you submit application to the embassy until the magical moment you receive your passport back. However, sometimes it takes up to four weeks, for example for my Italian visa. Before this, we all have to do quite serious preparation such as collecting documents, which takes another 2-3 weeks. Usually embassies request quite general information like references from work, booked tickets, and any information proving that you have reasons to enter the country (invitation and support letters), as well as valid reasons to come back home. The most complicated statement usually is the bank reference, confirming that you have enough money to live in the destination country. For a Schengen visa they usually request at least 40-50 Euros per day of the visa period on your bank account, meaning that going to a SU you have to put in average up to 1000 Euro on your bank account and show reference in embassy. Impressive, isn’t it?
Can you name an example when you did not get the visa?
It was a Greek visa for my Summer University with AEGEE-Peiraias and the Greek embassy rejected my application. At that moment I had already purchased tickets to the event for 300 Euro, an expensive insurance and lots of money was spent on the preparation of all documents and traveling to the embassy.
Do you think the rejection was good motivated?
No, when I came to the embassy to receive my passport back, they issued a passport with a paper inside, stating that I got a visa denial and the reason was “Not enough reasons to enter the country”. Despite the fact I provided the full package of documents, no more explanations were given to me.
Did you try to challenge this rejection?
Well, yes, me personally and th SU organizers from AEGEE-Peiraias were doing our best to cancel this stamp in my passport. We called the embassy, asked to reconsider my case and give at least some explanations, but it was useless. Later I got to know that embassies do not like to recognise their mistakes, so they always try to avoid the cancellation of a visa denial. I lost around 50% of the ticket cost after return, lost money for insurance, missed the SU of my dreams and received tons of negative emotions and a visa denial stamp in my passport.
What is the general cost of a visa?
In Ukraine the general cost of a Schengen visa is 35 Euro, and in case you are in a hurry, you can pay twice more and receive visa in 3-day term. And our situation is pretty good comparing to other countries where people have to pay at least 60 Euro. However, being the best case among even worse cases is not comforting and I really hope that the situation with all Eastern European countries will soon change for the better.
Did you ever try to obtain a free visa?
In my first year of AEGEE I was always afraid to apply for a free visa, because I was afraid that I might get visa denial if I start banging the table with my fist and yell that I want free visa. But then Alla Resheten, who was Vice-President of AEGEE-Kyiv at that time, told me once that I shouldn’t feel like a beggar and I had all rights to ask for a free visa and explained why. Since that time I always confidently request a Schengen visa free of charge.
Ukraine has a visa facilitation agreement since 2006. Do you think it was of any help to you?
Yes, it was really helpful to know I was backed up by the law. I always feel more confident in embassies because of this. And a free of charge visa saves money for cheaper plane tickets to AEGEE events in Europe.
What do you think can be improved by embassies to obtain visa fairer and easier?
I really like the policy of the Belgian embassy in Ukraine. They do not request you to show up in person, but you can send the application and all documents by courier mail and you receive your passport within three days. This saves a lot of money and time. And such a work attitude might help our locals in the Caucasus countries to get visas to Macedonia for the Agora Skopje much faster and cheaper, without going to Moscow or Ankara to the embassy. Because of this principle of “personal application” we lost those locals for Agora and they cannot attend it. And of course free visas in all visa countries for AEGEE members would be great. And lots of other things, which I can list if I had ten more pages.
How do you think the Visa Freedom Group can be more of a help to you?
We already were discussing it in VFWG. Our aim currently is not to abolish visas for all people in Europe – we are not in charge of doing that unfortunately. Our aim is to facilitate visa issuing processes and abolish visas in the best case for AEGEE members. Starting with building trustful and reliable co-operation with consulates and finishing with real effective agreements is our goal. I think if these aims are being achieved, the VFWG can be of a lot of help.
The world sometimes is smaller than you think and for many people, their world ends where their national borders are. Almost half of our Network frequently encounters problems when traveling. AEGEE is there to enlighten cross-border and intercultural experiences and with this legal barrier, it is impossible for many. This personal story gives a face to the current practices of the Schengen countries and hopefully makes you more aware of the battle many of us have to fight each time.
Hopefully you will continue this fight with us!
Visa Freedom Working Group
written by Lenny Smulders, AEGEE- Maastricht, and Olga Iatsyna, Network Commission & AEGEE-Dnipropetrovsk
 Schengen was the name of the initial framework agreement abolishing the internal borders between some member states of the European Union. Currently the abolishment of internal borders and visa rules is part of European Union law and is applicable to almost all EU countries with the exception of the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria. On the contrary non-EU countries have joined this agreement as well. By example Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway.
 European law provides for a basis for AEGEEans to ask visa’s for free. By example see article 16 Regulation (EC) No 810/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009 establishing a Community Code on Visas (Visa Code)