‘Visa shopping’ is a term that has gained currency in the context of immigration and global travel, particularly in relation to entering countries in the European Union. At its core, it involves individuals applying for visas from different countries within the same region until they are granted one. Once they obtain a visa for any one country within the Schengen area, they can, given the borderless nature of the region, travel to other countries within it as well.
This practice emerged as a result of a loophole in the Schengen Agreement. The Schengen Area, consisting of 26 European nations, allows free movement without passport controls at the internal borders. Therefore, a visa to any one Schengen country – the weakest link in terms of immigration scrutiny – becomes a doorway to all the Schengen countries.
One of the key reasons for ‘visa shopping’ is that the requirements and controls for obtaining a Schengen visa differ from one country to another. For instance, some countries may have more lenient immigration policies, less stringent checks, faster processing times, or lower visa refusal rates. As a result, many applicants, particularly from third countries, opt to apply from these ‘softer’ entry points.
While ‘visa shopping’ may be a practical solution for those struggling to gain entry into Europe, it raises several concerns. These concerns include the potentiality for illegal immigration, overstaying, and misuse of the visa for purposes that violate the terms of their stay such as illegal work.
In response to ‘visa shopping’, the EU has taken steps to standardize visa procedures across the Schengen area and to strengthen the external borders of the zone. The European Union Visa Information System has been implemented to detect ‘visa shoppers’ by storing details of past visa applications. Despite these measures, ‘visa shopping’ remains a grey area in the domain of immigration practices.
In conclusion, while ‘visa shopping’ offers a solution for some visa applicants, it presents a host of challenges for countries in the Schengen area, undermining attempts at immigration control and policy standardization.