10

In theory, visa applications are supposed to be about one thing and one thing only: evaluating the likelihood of a given person returning to their home country after their trip is over. Thus it shouldn't really matter when their flight is, what hotel they're staying at, and in the case of the Schengen area - what specific country they're going to. Consulates should care about the person's job, finances, real estate, family, education, etc, but not about the specifics of any individual trip.

So why do Schengen consulates have complex rules around what constitutes the "primary" destination, to the point where visas are sometimes revoked if you travel to a different country later on? Why not just issue generic visas regardless of which exact country the traveler will end up visiting?

This concept is referred to as both “visa shopping” and “consulate shopping” in various sources.

9
  • 5
    This may be a better question for politics.sx
    – ajd
    Jan 19 at 3:23
  • 9
    "Consulates should care about the person's job, finances, real estate, family, education, etc, but not about the specifics of any individual trip." -- why do you say this? Consulates presumably evaluate whether the planned itinerary is plausible, consistent with the rest of the applicant's story, and in accordance with the rules of the visa applied for?
    – ajd
    Jan 19 at 3:25
  • 11
    Returning home is only one aspect of granting a visa. Suppose country A concludes that Mr X wants to travel to A, commit some crime (according to A's laws) and then return to his home country. They would still refuse the visa although they assume Mr X will return home at the end of their trip.
    – quarague
    Jan 19 at 8:53
  • 2
    I added an answer on the most fundamental issue behind these rules but it's also probably fair to say that there isn't a lot of trust in applicants or even in member states among each other. They have to tolerate it to a point for the whole Schengen construction to work but there is a bias towards explicit rules like 5(1)(c) to avoid any case where applicants have a choice. Things like the EES also stem in part from this lack of trust between member states.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 19 at 11:05
  • 3
    @JonathanReez, I think that is very unreasonable with the difference in price between early bought tickets and last minute prices. Often last minute one way tickets are more expensive than my whole holiday budget, and for a 6 week other side of the world I might plan to use most of my easy to access savings. Now am I lucky to be a citizen of a country who can easily get visa or do not need them but your no visa if not enough money for a last minute ticket back home would make it even harder for those from less easy to get visa countries.
    – Willeke
    Jan 22 at 9:10

5 Answers 5

17

Beyond all the practical (and very real) issues, there is also deeper issue that's not necessarily spelled out in details in the regulations themselves but definitely guides EU law: state sovereignty and the proportionality and subsidiarity principles. Recital 28 of the Schengen Visa Code touches upon that:

Since the objective of this Regulation, namely the establishment of the procedures and conditions for issuing visas for transit through or intended stays in the territory of the Member States not exceeding three months in any six-month period, cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore be better achieved at Community level, the Community may adopt measures, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity as set out in Article 5 of the Treaty. In accordance with the principle of proportionality, as set out in that Article, this Regulation does not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve that objective.

In general, EU law curtails member states' sovereignty in that they relinquish certain decisions that would otherwise properly belong to each state. The idea of the subsidiarity principle is that it should only happen to the extent necessary to fulfil specific goals (like improving the functioning of the single market).

By default, deciding who gets to enter and stay in a country is up to each country. In the EU, visas are still primarily national matters with limited exceptions like the EU Blue Card and short stays (i.e. the visa and entry rules enshrined in the Schengen acquis). Each of these exceptions have to be justified by the goal and strictly limited to the measures necessary to achieve that goal. That's what recital 28 reaffirms.

For example, one goal of the Schengen area is to foster tourism by making it easier to visit several countries in the Schengen area. Concretely, it means that e.g. Italy effectively gives up its sovereign power to screen tourists entering the country from France by lifting border checks and recognising short-stay visas issued by France. It doesn't mean Italy wants to completely relinquish its power to decided on immigration matters or outsource it to France.

The rules in article 5 of the visa code (“Member State competent for examining and deciding on an application”) are a practical implementation of this principle, ensuring that countries still get a say on trips to that country, with fall-back rules when it's not obvious. As should be clear from this explanation, the rules on the primary destination are therefore totally unrelated to the substance of the decision but entirely dedicated to figuring out who (which country) should take that decision.

Additionally, your vision of what the visa decision should be about is simply inaccurate. As a matter of law, the purpose of the trip is one of the criteria listed in the Schengen Borders code, namely in article 6(1)(c). Note that technically the Visa Code simply refers to the Borders Code, any and all of the conditions for entry listed in this reference are fair game when examining a visa. Entry and/or a visa can therefore be refused if the purpose for the trip is not deemed credible and that's one of the standard justification for refusal defined in the regulation.

That's why the specific flight a visitor wants to take or the hotels they intend to stay at are relevant and can be taken into account when reaching a decision. For better or for worse, examining the trip's purpose seems reasonably common elsewhere in the world and part of the questioning you can expect, e.g., at the UK or US border. It doesn't really have much to do with the Schengen-specific issue of determining what the main destination is.


That said, I have already explained elsewhere that I do not think decisions like the one in My Schengen visa got revoked mid-trip, what should I do? are always justified. While applying to the country that's your primary destination is a requirement for political and practical reasons, it's not forbidden to change your mind and it doesn't follow that a visa ought to be cancelled when you do that.

I know it happens but it's hard to see how it's not an abuse or misunderstanding of the rules on the part of the state taking that decision. The only thing that justifies rescinding a visa is if the conditions for entry are not fulfilled anymore, which may or may not be the case. It also seems a little absurd to merely revoke a visa when the person is inside the EU and not in the custody of law enforcement (it implies that you think the person shouldn't be admitted in the Schengen area but you're tipping them off while they are already freely roaming the area and admitting they have done nothing wrong!?). Annulment would be a possibility but it implies that the visa was fraudulently obtained, i.e. that the applicants lied when they got the visa and that cannot be established merely based on a change of plans.


Note that the phrase “visa shopping” appears in the regulation with a slightly different meaning (especially in recital 18). In that case, it's not about which member state is competent but the reason why it is not allowed to apply for a Schengen visa from any consulate in the relevant member state diplomatic network but only in the consulate serving your place of residence (i.e. the rules defined in article 6 on “Consular territorial competence”).

6
  • I have my problems with some of the statements made in the 'My Schengen visa got revoked mid-trip, what should I do?' question. Mainly: 'My original hotel in Slovenia reported them when I cancelled my booking.'. That seems to me very unlikely. A hotel knows that a reservation was made by a visa national? Who checked if a reservation was not made elsewhere before revoking the visa? Sorry, not very plausible. Also it is the only case of a visa revoked mid-trip that I have heard of. Jan 19 at 12:33
  • 5
    @MarkJohnson This seems like a routine requirement in some countries so I don't find implausible, see the other links about Russian citizens experiencing similar things in, e.g. the Czech Republic. On the other hand, that's also the only case of visa revoked mid-trip I have heard of. I find it surprising too but then again our personal experience is necessarily limited and I don't think disbelieving and attacking people asking questions is a good approach in general. Ultimately, it doesn't really make a difference to the Q&A.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 19 at 13:00
  • 1
    EU law affects members’ control, not their sovereignty. Their sovereignty is unaffected because the loss of control is voluntary, and it can be regained at any time by leaving the EU.
    – Mike Scott
    Jan 20 at 6:16
  • @MarkJohnson In many countries, non-nationals have to give their nationality and perhaps passport number when booking a hotel.
    – Mike Scott
    Jan 20 at 6:18
  • 1
    @ave That would only concern a limited group of people, most visa aren't reviewed by multiple member states. That's what the rules mentioned in the question are designed to cover. Also, trying to follow your logic, if you were able to get some sort of national visa, why wouldn't you get one from the country you applied to? It wouldn't be very useful to you if you actually intended to visit another country but it wouldn't be a refusal.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 21 at 18:59
15

So why do Schengen consulates have complex rules around what constitutes the "primary" destination, to the point ...

The main reason is to spread the workload more or less proportionally to the number of visitors a country gets.


The Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985 (Article 12 (2)), the Visa Code (Article 5 (1)(b) or the Visa Code Handbook I give no reason as to why the principle of main destination determines the competent Member State for a Schengen Visa (Type C) application.

So an official answer, based on existing legal text, cannot be given.

Since before the Schengen Agreement 3rd country nationals were required to apply for each country they visited, it should be obvious that Luxembourg did not want to be burdened with the lion's share of visa applications where the main destination was France or Germany.

This and the fact that consulates require a certain amount of personnel and resources to process the applications (that many countries already had in place in 1985) is the probable reason for the adoption of this principle.

It should also be obvious that if one country is suddenly flooded with applications because someone claims that the processing time is a wee bit shorter, then their processing time will most likely skyrocket.

Since most countries have a good idea how many people visit them each year, they can plan ahead for the required personnel and other resources to process the applications within the desired 15 calendar days timeframe.

Until the Schengen digital visa is introduced (around 2028), this situation is unlikely to change.


CONVENTION IMPLEMENTING THE SCHENGEN AGREEMENT of 14 June 1985
Article 12
...
2. The Contracting Party responsible for issuing such a visa shall in principle be that of the main destination. If this cannot be determined, the visa shall in principle be issued by the diplomatic or consular post of the Contracting Party of first entry.
...


REGULATION (EC) No 810/2009 (Visa Code)

Article 5
Member State competent for examining and deciding on an application

  1. The Member State competent for examining and deciding on an application for a uniform visa shall be:

(a) the Member State whose territory constitutes the sole destination of the visit(s);
(b) if the visit includes more than one destination, or if several separate visits are to be carried out within a period of two months, the Member State whose territory constitutes the main destination of the visit(s) in terms of the length of stay, counted in days, or the purpose of stay; or
(c) if no main destination can be determined, the Member State whose external border the applicant intends to cross in order to enter the territory of the Member States.

...

3
  • 7
    The main reason is indeed to spread the workload more or less proportionally to the number of visitors a country gets. Jan 19 at 6:06
  • @KristvanBesien That is exactly the phrase I have been looking for since yesterday when topic turned up. Mind if I add it to the answer? Jan 19 at 7:43
  • 1
    Reasons would typically be found in the recitals, not in the body of the regulation. And even in legal systems where statutes are less verbose than EU law, there is a lot of contextual information (parliamentary reports, speeches, debates, etc.) that court will take into account.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 19 at 11:10
8

In additional to the other reason, I think language is also a relevant topic.

First, you are wrong about Consulates should care about the person's job, finances, real estate, family, education, etc, but not about the specifics of any individual trip. They care about what you will do in the country (tourism, work, etc.) and later if you are at risk to overstaying or work (outside visa conditions).

But to assess most of the reasons, the consular officers should know the destination country, the language, etc. Remember that within a country there is an official language, so you should be able to use it (and not e.g. English) on all documents, so I would not expect that a consular officer of Cyprus can understand a document in Finnish. And there are costs involved (small countries may not have much resources). So if you have an invitation of a conference, or a job, etc.: local country knowledge may help to check if it is plausible (and real): they may be able to phone to have confirmations.

Then to assess your finances, we have the local consular office, so it is expected that they known culture and documents, and for this reason (and for practical reasons), you can use an alternate consular office, if country do not have one specific in (within) your country (but for limited things).

6

Three months ago I was issued a visa from one of the EU embassies where I live. The guy asked me if I had a Schengen visa before, I said yes I had many, he asked me to show him the last one, which was a 5-year visa issued from one of the Schengen countries, I was shocked by his response, he said "This is why this particular embassy is not allowed to issue a 5-year visas any more, they used to issue it all the time which made us had less visa requests". He issued me a 3-year visa this time!

In my opinion, it is a way to make money for the embassies, someone has to pay the employees and there's no harm in making a bit extra money.

11
  • Strange, the visa code states that multiple-entry visa validity periods are 1,2 or 5 years (no 3 years). Visa Code Article 24(2) Issuing of a uniform visa (c) for a validity period of five years, provided that the applicant has obtained and lawfully used a previous multiple-entry visa valid for two years within the previous three years. Jan 19 at 5:50
  • 3
    @MarkJohnson there are visas which have validities of months, not even a year. There's no consistency when it comes to Schengen visa validity. Jan 19 at 8:53
  • 1
    @NeanDerThal I was given a 8 day multiple-entry schengen visa once.
    – ave
    Jan 21 at 14:17
  • Article 24 (2) only deals with multiple-entry visas with a long validity after three visas within the previous two years have been issued (then 1 year). The next visa then could be then for 2 years. Therefore the first 5-year visa should never have been issued at all if you didn't have a 2 year visa beforehand. Shorter durations can always be issued if any of the conditions in 2a-2d are fulfilled. Jan 21 at 18:55
  • As a German, I think EU visa fees are about comparable to what we pay for own documents. An EU visa is 80 Euros, a German Reisepass is 70 Euros and a Personalausweis 37 Euros. So I seriously doubt embassies are making much money with this. There are countries where profiteering is (explicitely) part of the visa process, e.g. the UK or China. But these countries also have considerably higher visa fees.
    – Jan
    Jan 21 at 18:58
5

The main reason is to avoid applicants applying multiple times to multiple countries in order to try and avoid the decisions made by one country. This is why it is referred to as "Visa Shopping", by analogy to the applicants shopping around trying to get the cheapest (that is, easiest) option. This has security concerns as well as more general migratory concerns. Making it so that applicants have to apply to a particular country based on their itinerary minimises their choice about where to apply and thus also their ability to "shop around".

You can see this concern spelled on the EU's own page about the VIS system.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .