When certain nationalities of people want to travel in the Schengen zone, they are required to apply for a Schengen visa. This is a straight-forward process for most, but when an applicant has had problems with removals or refusals they may be reluctant to apply because they want to avoid the complexities of serial visa refusals. This reluctance may lead some into wondering how their history can be expunged, and this line of thought inevitably leads to the idea of getting their passport replaced with a new one.

This sounds like a great formula for people who have had prior refusals or removals. In essence they can become 'reincarnated' as a first-time traveller and hence avoid the unpleasantness of revealing their prior interactions with the Schengen authorities.

The relevant parts of the application form are shown here...

Nothing asks about a prior removal or refusal, and the applicant is left with simple denials for 3 questions in order to present themselves as a first-time traveller.

Assuming the person is happy to set aside the moral issues associated with denying their history, are there any holes to this strategy?

This question is scoped to Schengen visa applications so that it will not be unmanageably broad, but answers from other regimes (particularly the affluent Commonwealth and the USA) are acceptable as long as the main points are relatively consistent with Schengen.

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    it's completely useless, forget it – Fattie May 6 '16 at 11:16
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    Even if it does work, it's essentially fraudulent; if it's ever discovered, even decades later, you could be deported unless you get an Article 8 ruling in your favour. – pjc50 May 6 '16 at 12:11
up vote 36 down vote accepted

The strategy gets a lot of mileage on the net because it sounds so perfect. Even on this site I read...

Refusals to the Schengen area are not recorded centrally, you are not asked for prior refusals when applying for a new visa and chances are high that the only trace of the refused entry is a cancelled entry stamp in the passport. Get a new passport and noone will know about it anymore.

But in the case of Schengen the bottom line is that it's a naive illusion.

Background

There are two factors affecting all Schengen applications...

  1. The Visa Information System. This is a database formally shared by 27+ countries (These are the Schengem member states, the UK, and by proxy the Republic of Ireland) which contains a five year running history of nearly everything that has taken place under the Schengen regime. National treaties may account for the inclusion of additional countries such as pre-enlargement members and the Five Eyes members.

  2. The Schengen Biometrics regulation. This is implemented by each member state. Representative text from the Netherlands is "...As of May 15th, 2014 it is required that applicants for a Schengen visa will need to provide biometric data (fingerprints) when submitting an application. The biometric data of persons applying for a Schengen visa will be stored in a new Visa Information System (VIS)..."

Biometrics are captured from all first-time applicants and held for 5 years. Member states are entitled to request an applicant to re enrol their biometrics if there is doubt about the person's identity, such as a new passport.

The Strategy

A hypothetical strategy might go along these lines...

  1. The person discards their passport and obtains a replacement. And just to make it interesting assume the person changes their name before obtaining a new passport. So now the person has a new passport in a different name. So far so good.

  2. They complete the Schengen application form as a "different person" and deny any prior travel to the Schengen zone. The strategy is working!

  3. Recognizing the person as a first-time applicant, the consulate invites the person to enrol their biometrics.

  4. The person can decline, which results in a statutory visa refusal, hence defeating the strategy.

  5. The person can agree and enrol their biometrics.

  6. The biometrics are entered into the VIS and there's a cold hit. The person's biometrics have been matched. At this point the strategy becomes imperilled.

  7. The person claims the cold hit is a false positive and a further investigation is launched. The member state's risk assessment team uses facial recognition techniques and first principles inspection to compare the previous passport (also in the VIS) to the new passport. Finally, the team matches the credit card/bank details used to pay for the application with flight tickets purchased much earlier and this nails the coffin shut.

  8. The risk assessment team's findings are adverse to the person. The consulate makes enquiries to their counterparts in the person's country about the person's possible use of other names which were not disclosed on the application. At this point the person's strategy is in tatters.

  9. The person attempts to discredit the risk assessment team whilst concocting another layer of deception about an undisclosed previous name. But in this particular case the matching of credit cards/bank details presents an overwhelming obstacle. The strategy has failed.

What all of this amalgamates to is the 'new passport strategy' can turn an awkward history into a doomed one. People who endorse this strategy have not thought their way past step 2 above. Also note that the person's name never entered the scenario as a line of enquiry until the very late stages.

Summary

If you had a prior Schengen visa, your information is stored on a database for five years (12 if your case is complex); The database is available to all member states plus other stakeholders. The data record includes things that are very difficult for a person to conceal, like their fingerprints and a thermal image. The VIS also stores the credit card/bank details for both 1 the application and [2] airline tickets for flights in and out of the Schengen zone.

In this era of biometrics a person's name is largely irrelevant.

To ward off any comments, this answer is scoped to nationalities that require a Schengen visa prior to arrival in the zone. Non-visa nationals like Americans, Canadians, Australians, and so on are not affected by this answer. Perhaps that's material for another day.

Another item worth mentioning is that Schengen has a treaty with the USA for sharing passenger information. Read the "agreement between the United States of America and the European Union on the use and transfer of passenger name records to the United States Department of Homeland Security" to see some of the items covered.

  • 2
    So, the VIS can know that "it is you", can this information be obtained by the immigration officer upon arrival? – Nean Der Thal May 6 '16 at 9:29
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    When they scan your passport at a Schengen control point, it shows the information on the passport chip and if there's a stop flag. The scan is appended to the VIS record. If they want, they can then go to a secured workstation and pull up the whole VIS record. If they type something in to their workstation, it is also appended to the VIS record. – Gayot Fow May 6 '16 at 9:32
  • @HeidelBerGensis I don't know if they used Repository or not but I strongly guess they did; otherwise the VIS would be too unwieldy. Also they are very pernickety about best practices. So for practical purposes, assume yes, they use (and use heavily) the Repository Pattern. – Gayot Fow May 6 '16 at 9:41
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    Out of theoretical interest (EU citizen), is this strategy less likely to be useless if the previous refusals etc. took place when biometric information had not been given? For instance if they preceded (e.g.) 2006 (possibly right up to 2014), it's possible that the traveller did not then (and has not since) given biometric information. – abligh May 6 '16 at 14:40
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    @abligh, yes if their Schengen history is pre 2006 AND if they never applied to the UK or USA after 2002 and there were no removals prior to about 1998, then you're in the clear. But I think of that as a corner case outside the intent of the question because those situations do not call for the strategy in the first instance :) – Gayot Fow May 6 '16 at 14:56

Your name and date of birth is also stored in the system and if you have given biometrics before, that information is also stored. If you give false information on your application form, it wouldn't take a lot for the visa officer to figure out that you are not telling the truth, which is grounds for refusal. The answer above says the info is stored for five years in the Schengen visa system. The only way you MAY be able to get away with changing passports is waiting until your previous records are no active. But I'm not sure about that.

A friend of mine (Pakistani national) was refused a visit visa to Australia. When he applied a couple of years later for a British visa, he withheld the information about Australian refusal when asked in the application about previous refusals to Britain, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and any Schengen member state. The British visa officer knew he had lied and his British visa was also refused. I leave it to you to figure out how they knew.

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