Thinking of visiting Europe? Gabrielle recounts her experiences living and working in Europe, and her Schengen shenanigans, and surmises that students and foreign-based professionals should be allowed to move more freely within the Schengen area.
In the past couple years I have travelled, studied, worked and lived throughout mainland Europe. I have partied, dined and sight seen in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Lyon, Geneva and Zurich, but as intriguing as this may sound, accessing these European countries was the most painstaking, nerve-wrecking, poverty-inducing process ever. Generally, travel within Europe (thanks to Eurostar and Easyjet) is amazingly cheap and convenient. The inconvenience, therefore, exists solely in the requirement for a Schengen visa.
In 1995, the Schengen Agreement was implemented by several European Countries thereby removing internal border controls within the Schengen Area. Presently, 25 European countries, including destination favourites, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Greece, are party to the agreement. The Schengen system enables Europeans to travel freely within the Schengen Area without the restriction of onerous visa applications. Several other countries have signed Schengen waiver agreements, and as such their citizens are also able to travel without a visa.
…the prognosis is grim.
Sounds annoying, time consuming, humiliating and expensive? Well it most certainly is. Furthermore, although it is possible to be issued a three-month, multiple-entry Schengen Visa enabling you to travel indiscriminately in and out of the Schengen Area, this is a rare and arbitrary occurrence. Instead, you are more likely to be issued a single entry visa for the exact period within which you are booked to travel exclusively for that single European state. Therefore, if you were planning to visit multiple cities on that visa, you can forget it since it would be impossible to get another appointment in time.
Sounds annoying, time consuming, humiliating and expensive?
In another ridiculous Schengen story, my friend, a young professional resident in London, decided to surprise me with a visit while in Switzerland. She had gone to Germany the week before so she had two Schengen Visas in her passport. When she left Germany the passport personnel erroneously stamped the Visa for the Swiss visit, this was brought to her attention when she was about to board for Geneva, by the airport personnel who debarred her from getting on the flight. Now this was despite the fact that the dates and destination stamps would have revealed that this was clearly a mistake. There was no financial compensation available for the lost Visa processing fee and plane ticket.
…using the present system as such a tool is like using a sledgehammer to kill an ant…
As Caribbean people, we cannot speak about bettering relations between ourselves and Europe, when we encounter such a complete hassle when travelling there. Presently, four Caribbean States (Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St. Kitts and Nevis) have successfully negotiated Schengen waivers for their citizens. However, considering that these countries have notably small populations that enjoy a comparatively high standard of living, the chances of a waiver for countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana are exceedingly slim.
Well then if not a waiver, perhaps the creation of other categories of the visa. For example, a one or two-year multiple entry visa for university students who wish to travel to Europe frequently during the course of their study and/or a fast track application process for businessmen who need to access Europe at the spur of the moment to complete important business. If I can be granted a ten-year, multiple- entry visa to the US, a country to which gazillions of Trinidadians illegally migrate every year, then neither of these propositions are farfetched.
For students and foreign-based professionals the ability to move freely within the Schengen area is integral to building strong relationships with European counterparts, while experiencing a new and alternative way of life. Therefore, in order to move forward positively, we must massage the Schengen discourse by concentrating on finding solutions to problems like illegal migration while facilitating positive initiatives such as business and cultural exchange. As it stands, the system operates as an extraordinary disincentive and is out of place in this global world. As affected persons, it is important to voice our discontent.
Image credit: simsim