Saudis angered by Europe visa hassles

May 5, 2009 12:00 am

, RIYADH, May 5 – Saudi Arabia has accused France, Germany and Italy of discrimination over what it said were unreasonable delays for its nationals to secure visas to visit several European countries.

Saudi applicants are forced to submit more documentation and wait much longer than citizens of neighbouring countries for Europe’s Schengen visa, the foreign ministry said.

The visa allows visitors to travel freely through 15 countries with a visa from a single embassy.

Articles in several newspapers in the past three weeks have accused especially the French embassy in Riyadh of mistreating Saudi applicants, with some calling for a boycott of France and its businesses.

"The visas take longer than it should be … We want to be treated as the other Gulf countries are," foreign ministry spokesman Osama Nugali told AFP.

"The Kuwaitis don’t have to wait, the Omanis don’t, so why the Saudis?" asked Al-Hayat columnist Dawood al-Shirian, who said many well-placed Saudi businessmen and officials have voiced their frustration.

Shirian cited excessive demands made on Saudi applicants for documents like return tickets, bank statements and insurance, and waits of more than three weeks.

"These are not poor people who will stay in Europe for work," he said.

"These are people who have businesses and houses there. People who go stay in a five-star hotel, people who spend thousands of euros, people who go to Germany for medical reasons."

European diplomats acknowledge it is more time-consuming to get a Schengen visa in Saudi Arabia than in nearby countries.

But they trace that to higher security precautions in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in which most of the attackers were Saudi nationals, and to the 2003-2005 Al-Qaeda campaign of bombings and murders inside Saudi Arabia itself.

French ambassador Bertrand Besancenot said applicants’ names have to be screened by all the countries which the traveller plans to visit.

"The process is naturally longer because you have to have the green light from all the Schengen countries," he said.

But he added that Europeans wanting to visit Saudi Arabia also undergo lengthy waits for visas, unlike nearby Gulf countries which offer them visas on arrival at the airport.

"The Schengen countries have a lot of things to complain about," he said.

Saudi ire is focused on the French, German and Italian embassies, which issue the bulk of Schengen visas, while Britain is ouotside the Schengen zone and not involved.

He said the embassy was planning to outsource to a private firm the collection of visa applications and documents to ease the difficulties.

The visa problems could also be eased with some reciprocity from Saudi Arabia on its visa requirements, the ambassador said, adding that the French issue about 70,000 visas a year in the kingdom.


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