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Schengen visa denied 3 times - is it worth appealing? - complicated story

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« on: June 24, 2016, 11:47:42 pm »

I am a Hungarian citizen living and working in Belgium since 2005, hence I have the right to invite people from a third country through the Belgian embassy, Belgium being the main destination of the travel. I have a Maasai friend in Tanzania. After visiting his village multiple times I wanted to invite him to visit me for 90 days in Belgium.

First of all in Belgium the embassy has the right to issue a visa but doesn't have the right to refuse one. The decision about a refusal is taken in Belgium by the Belgian Immigration office.

I was his sponsor for all 3 applications providing all the necessary documentation. My income is more than enough to meet the criteria. I have provided the embassy with confirmation of his return ticket, travel health insurance all 3 times. At the first attempt we applied for a multiple entry visa (my family lives in a non-Schengen country) and on the application form we only mentioned that he is a pastoralist farmer, but didn't give any documentation, especially because this was not a problem for other Maasai applicants in the past, even at the Belgian embassy they received a visa without a problem. It seemed that the embassy understands and accepts their way of life, that they don't use bank accounts but they rather trade live stock for goods and in return the Maasai always went back to the embassy to report that they have returned to their country that they always return to their families.

At the same time during the first visa application my friend was accused of visa shopping, because in 2014 he was invited to France, where the inviting family changed their mind during the process and didn't want to sponsor him, they didn't provide all the documentation and he had no means to continue the visa process. More than a year ago he was invited by another family this time to Spain, but again some paperwork was missing and the visa was denied. Now if somebody tried already the whole visa process, you can understand how complicated it is. I don't think that those inviting families had bad intentions, most probably they had no idea how badly this can reflect on my friend (how we take travelling for granted in the EU...) and they just gave up, or maybe they thought how cute it would be to invite a Maasai for a few weeks and show him around to our friends and after the unsuccessful application their conscious was clear, we invited him, it didn't work out, but we tried.

My friend is not very well educated, our western bureaucracy is very far from anything he has encountered so far and he has no access to the internet and he relies completely on the inviting families for information therefore I decided to do my best and not quit at the first obstacle, but him and I were surprised by this visa shopping accusation and didn't even understand it, since I have never heard of this before. Especially since he is so poor that the only way for him to travel is with full sponsorship and invitation. The reason for refusal the first time was that we didn't prove the relationship between us (I wrote it down in my invitation letter that we are friends and after visiting him, I would like to invite him back), the purpose of the stay was not clear, the first two times we might have made a mistake to mark both tourism and visiting friend on the application form, and we didn't give enough proof about his intentions to return to his country (ties to his country, too young, single etc).

After this refusal we were advised that it is just easier to try to provide more documentation rather than appealing. I wrote a longer, more elaborate invitation letter where I wrote down how we met during my first visit to Tanzania (Zanzibar), how we stayed in touch, how I spent Christmas and Easter with his family, how I donated to the local school, thinking about volunteering there for a while, I have provided copies of my visas to Tanzania, boarding cards and 12 pages of photos together in different kind of social situations, all of this to prove our friendship. We also got a letter from his village council in Swahili stating how many acres of agricultural land he has, how many cows, goats, house etc. At the advise of the embassy this document was not translated into English, French or Dutch, they said they speak Swahili at the embassy. The reason for the denial was again the same as before. For me it seemed that they didn't even look at the papers. How else do they want us to prove our relationship? Should we provide a video of our life? They didn't say anything about the letter from the village council, I am convinced that the embassy didn't provide a translation or explanation about it.

So for the 3rd time I have asked a friend to help me to write the invitation letter in French (the first 2 were in English), who knows maybe this was their problem... We wrote a small essay about how the Maasai lives, about no matter where they go they always return to their families, how my friend has to provide for his family since his father died, arguing that there are no Tanzanian refugees anywhere in the world because it is a peaceful country, moreover Tanzania helps refugees from neighboring countries. Why I want to invite him for 3 months etc. We provided the same documentation like before, this time the village gave the letter in English. Even a Tanzanian friend who is more experienced in this kind of matters accompanied him to the embassy trying to explain the situation and trying to vouch for his return (he did it successfully for others in the past and the embassy knows him).

When one applies for a Schengen visa at the Belgian embassy, the progress of the visa can be followed on the website of immigration, but as it turns out only if the embassy doesn't want to issue the visa, but sends the dossier for decision to Belgium. During the first 2 applications it took about 1 week for the dossier to arrive and register in Belgium and 1 week later the result of refusal was published. The third time there was still nothing after 1 week,  10 days still nothing. As it turns out the embassy was busy with a visit and sent the dossier more than a week later. Last time I checked on the internet it was on Tuesday evening, still nothing, Wednesday morning I have looked and it said that the application was registered in Belgium on Monday and refused on Tuesday. It took them less then a day and they published the result 1 day after the decision... One could argue that we asked the visa to start on the following Thursday that is why they refused it so fast at the same time we applied on time...We don't know yet the reason for the refusal this time. It just happened this week.

Now I don't know how the embassies work, but based on my experiences so far it seems that they might send the dossier to Belgium either not complete or with a note asking just for a refusal (since the embassy doesn't have the right to refuse it, only the immigration) or with some other non factual notes, stating their opinion... I have tried to contact the embassy a few times and there is one individual, whose opinion is apparently highly regarded at the embassy, whose half sentences indicated either to me or my friend that she has a problem with me not being Belgian citizen and she might have a notion that my friend is trying to take advantage of me, just because he was invited unsuccessfully by others in the past. I never managed to have a normal conversation with her and but what little interaction we had all indicated that she simply doesn't like my friend.

And on top of all of this I have tried to talk to the embassy today about the refusal (my friend in the meantime gave me power of attorney to request information in his name, since it is a bit difficult for him to do it from under the lions tail in the savanna, where most of the time there is no phone connection) and I have spoken to a gentleman, who was the ambassador as I found out during our conversation and he was quite arrogant and even tried to tell me that when a decision is made it is final and it cannot be reversed and we cannot appeal. He changed his tone a little bit when I have asked him what does he mean that we cannot appeal when his own country's immigration website says that it is the embassy who is suppose to explain how one can appeal and the possibility for an appeal is sated on the website of the Commission as well. He put down the phone. When I called back the the line was cut, he didn't take my call anymore and sent me a message to write them an email. I have written 3 emails in the past asking for information and they have never replied...

The whole system is built in a way that I cannot talk to a decision maker and the people I manage to talk to treat me like a criminal or a dog and it is not even my own country's officials. Who should I turn to? Is it worth appealing? If there is any kind of subjective opinion stored about my friend in the VIS or SIS II how can that be deleted or changed? Any idea, or advice is welcome.
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