Bundestag Wants to Close Visa Loopholes | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 21.01.2005
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Bundestag Wants to Close Visa Loopholes

Are German diplomats too lax in issuing visas? Opposition politicians think so and want the foreign minister to appear before parliamentary hearings on the issue.

German embassies, like this one in Havana, have been too lenient

German embassies, like this one in Havana, have been too lenient

To hear Germany's chief opposition party tell it, the country's embassies might as well be smuggling bands in the way they let foreigners into the country.

In the past year, German diplomats in Ukraine, Russia, Albania, among other countries, have been slammed at home for being too lax on who they let into the country. Christian Democrat parliamentarian Hans-Peter Uhl said the German Foreign Ministry's laziness in reviewing visa applications has only encouraged prostitution and human smugglers.

"Organized crime is benefiting … from the Foreign Ministry," said Uhl.

Sri Lankan handballers benefit

Beginning Wednesday, Uhl is heading a parliamentary committee charged with examining the role of the foreign ministry and its head, Joschka Fischer, in the approval of thousands of incomplete or unverified visa applications in recent years. Opposition politicians called for the hearings after German law enforcement complained that criminals were granted easy entry to Germany on falsified documents.

In 2001, the German embassy in Kiev, Ukraine approved 400,000 Visas, an unusually high number considering the 190 German embassies worldwide issue 3 million visas each year on average.

In 2003, a judge in Cologne handed down a mild sentence to the head of a smuggling ring, saying the Foreign Ministry made it too easy for him.

Last September, in perhaps the most comical episode of lax entry rules, a group of Sri Lankans advertising themselves as the national handball team were granted visas for a tournament in Munich. Tournament officials started getting suspicious when it was clear the Sri Lankans had no idea how to play the game. Before they could be deported, they disappeared, allegedly travelling to the large and tight-knit Sri Lankan community in Italy.

Tighter rules not tight enough

The Foreign Ministry reacted to the criticism that erupted following the incident by promising tighter regulations. Under the microscope is a policy from 2000 that allowed more flexibility to people applying for entry in Germany. For example, they were allowed to mail in their applications, rather than stand in long lines at the embassy and questionable applications were often given the benefit of the doubt.

Now, the Ministry wants to create, among other things, a databank that roots out people who apply repeatedly for visas to Germany. Uhl says that's not enough.

"If a foreigner wants a visa he needs to first be able to finance the trip. Second, his purpose for travelling here has to be authentic and thirdly, their intention to return home needs to be closely examined," said Uhl. "That is still not done."

Foreign Ministry officials are calling the opposition's complaints populistic and misguiding. By inferring that the government is letting in terrorists, illegal workers, prostitutes and criminals, the CDU is doing nothing more than "trying to play on people's fears for their own gain," said Kerstin Müller, a ministry undersecretary.

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