Learning patterns/Timing, Communication, Preparation: How to support your event participants in the best way to get a Schengen Visa
What problem does this solve?
Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE) has hosted several Wikimedia Conferences (WMCON) in Berlin, which were attended by affiliates from all around the world. Depending on the country of origin of an affiliate, a so-called “Schengen visa” to travel to and enter Germany is required. For passing through some countries, some participants (depending on the country of origin) even require a transit visa. WMDE regularly noticed that some invited delegates experienced difficulties in the visa application process or could not attend the conference as a result of visa rejection.
Several main factors have been identified by WMDE that led to the abovementioned problems:
- Long Waiting and Processing Times
- Certain consulates or embassies have long waiting times and appointment scarcity for visa matters (particularly in peak travel seasons). On top of that, the processing time (time between submission and granting the visa) can take quite a while (up to 21 days).
- Late Start with Visa Application Process
- Not applying well in advance of the intended travel date (at least 6-8 weeks before the event is advisable), some participants could not get a visa interview appointment or complete the visa application process in time. In this case, WMDE had no chance to anticipate and help the concerning person.
- Incomplete Documents and Inconsistent Information Provided
- A bunch of different documents have to be provided in support of the visa application process. WMDE experienced that some visa requests were denied because of incomplete, missing and inconsistent documents or contradictory statements made during the interview.
What is the solution?
By organizing the Wikimedia Conference a few times in the past, WMDE increasingly learned, how event organizers can support participants in the visa application process, and that they can have a crucial impact on the successful visa application . For a more complete understanding, a short survey was sent to the participants after the WMCON16, who were in need of a visa, to include their insights and experiences in this learning pattern.
Factors such as timing, the registration process concept, the provision of supporting documents by the event organizer and information provided on the event website play an important role. Moreover, making sure that participants fully understand the importance of sticking to this process and keeping the event organizers updated is crucial. In the following sections information and recommendations on how event organizers can assist conference attendants, which are in need of a visa, are presented.
As certain consulates or embassies have long waiting times for an interview (depends on the country whether an interview is necessary) and the visa processing time can take a while (up to 21 days for a Schengen visa, see also here), applicants should contact the consulate to start with the visa application process as early as possible. It is also important to note that Schengen visa applications can be submitted no more than three months (!) before the start of the trip.
Event organizers can have a major impact on the time frame available to obtain a visa. Planning an event with international guests, the event organizers should allow enough time between the registration and the event. WMDE opened the registration four months before the Wikimedia Conference, which offered the participants in need of a visa sufficient time to collect the necessary visa documents (one month) and to submit the visa request (full three months between submitting an application and start of the trip is granted).
By announcing the event date early (~8 months before) and by including a call to action to start on time with the visa application process within the invitation mail for the event, organizers can proactively contribute to the early start of the visa application. For travelling and applying for a visa, participants require a passport that is valid until at least six month after the stay. Thus, attendants should check the validity of their passport early to not postpone the visa application process.
2. Registration Process Concept
Within the Wikimedia Conference registration form, WMDE included a visa section, containing important visa information and questions.
First of all, the participants were asked to check the overview of visa requirements/ exemptions for entry into Germany on the website of the Federal Foreign Office. This was followed by requesting the participants to state whether they require a visa and the following information (if they confirmed the visa need):
WMDE will assist you with your visa application and will provide the following documents:
- Letter of invitation
- Foreign travel health insurance
- Copy of registration of association of WMDE
- Copy of identity card from WMDE’s Executive Director
The documents will be sent to you via email. Please print these documents and submit them at the embassy/consulate. The Federal Foreign Office in Berlin confirmed that it is generally not necessary to present the original documents at the embassy/consulate, which is extremely reducing the mailing expenses. Prior to the submission, we however advise you to double-check this with your contact person at the embassy/consulate. Should the original documents be required, please inform us accordingly and we will send them to you in the fastest manner.
Furthermore, you will need the following:
- Travel booking confirmation or itinerary
- Hotel room booking confirmation (depending on who books the hotel/travel provided by participant or organizer)
As WMDE prepared the abovementioned documents and wanted to facilitate this process most efficiently (no need to send follow-up mails to ask for further information), the participants in need of a visa were also asked to provide the following details within the registration form, which were relevant for preparing the invitation letter:
- Have you attended previous Wikimedia Conferences, Wikimanias or other international Wikimedia events?
- Arrival Date:
- Departure Date:
- Passport number:
- Passport issued by (country):
- Passport valid until (dd/mm/yyyy):
- Place where passport was issued:
- Date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy):
- Country of birth:
Address of Current Residence
- Additional Information:
- Postal Code:
- German embassy/consulate where the visa will be requested:
- Agreement that personal details will be sent to the Federal Foreign Office(Yes/No)
To simplify the process, we also recommend to add the following questions to the registration form. Assuming liability towards the Foreign Registration Office for the participants and wanting to have enough information on the participants in case the event organizers are contacted by the consulate, these questions may be valuable.
- Have you applied for a Schengen visa before?
- Have you been abroad before? If yes, do you have the visa process number?
- What is your current occupation?
- Do members of your family live in your home country?
3. Supporting Documents provided by Event Organizers
As shown above, WMDE provided the following documents to WMCON participants, who were in need of a visa:
- Letter of invitation signed by the Executive Director of WMDE
- Copy of identity card of the Executive Director
- Copy of foreign travel health insurance
- Copy of register of associations
In the subsequent paragraphs, detailed information on the particular documents can be found.
By sending the listed documents, event organizers can tremendously support the participants in the visa application process. WMDE commonly prepared and processed these documents right after a registration of a particular attendant came in. To allow each participant to start the visa application process as soon as possible, individual processing was important to WMDE. In average, it took ten working days between the registration of the participant until the the visa documents were sent out. WMDE prepared the document templates as good as possible, before opening the registration, to allow a fast processing time from the beginning.
As the inviting organization assumes legal liability for the attendees, it is of utmost importance to check whether the person is known in the Wikimedia movement (one of the most important questions to clarify before sending out the invitation letter). This step may sound awkward and unpleasant. However, as the inviting organization takes responsibility for visa applicants, one needs to be sure that a person doesn’t use the conference as a pretense to travel to and stay in the country and take equivalent security measures. If a registered person wasn’t familiar to WMDE, WMF and/ or representatives of local communities, or affiliations were consulted.
An invitation letter is supposed to verify the intent of a person to attend an event. The document should include information on the visa applicant as well as the inviting party, the duration of stay, the purpose as well as importance of the event attendance and the cost coverage for the trip (if covered by inviting organization). WMDE prepared an invitation letter in English and German. Although a German version would have been sufficient, the English version was provided for the participant to also be able to understand its content. To lend credibility to the writing, one should also attach importance to avoid misspellings, grammatical errors and to use the organization's letterhead. It is also important to note that the issue date of the letter should not be older than six month prior to the event.
The following personal details of the participants must be included within the letter:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Passport number
- Place of residence
The subsequent details of the inviting party should be included:
- Full address
- Telephone number
- Email address of the contact person
Proving to have sufficient financial means available for the travel and stay abroad is an obligation during the course of visa procedure. If the inviting organization agrees to cover the costs, this should be formally stated within the invitation letter. The inviting party shall be obliged to cover any and all costs associated with the costs of the subsistence. This also entails costs for medical care as well as potential costs arising from deportation. WMDE obliged to bear the costs of the invited person in the following manner for WMCON:
“Herewith, Wikimedia Deutschland commits towards the Foreigner's Registration Office to cover all costs associated with the living in accordance with section 68 of the Residence Act as well as the costs for the arrival, travel insurance as well as the potential repatriation in accordance with sections 66 and 67 of the German Residence Act for the hereinafter referred person. The costs for the accommodation during as well as for the arrival and departure days (up to two days before and after the event) will be covered by Wikimedia.”
The official commitment to bear the costs resulting from the attendance of the event in accordance with the German Residence Act had to be formally annotated (see also here). Please note that official evidence requirements for financial obligations varies from country to country.
WMDE has a liability insurance for travel operators that covers personal, material and property damages of conference participants. Assuming liability for conference participants as a hosting organization, it is sensible to hold such an insurance (in Germany it is obligatory!) – particularly to hedge the liability risks of deportation costs.
Copy of Identity Card of Liable Person
It is crucial to attach a copy of the identity card of the person signing the invitation letter. In case of the Wikimedia Conference, the letter was signed by the Executive Director of WMDE. If your organization doesn't have a position like an Executive Director, we assume the president/chair of your organization would assume that responsibility.
Foreign Travel Health Insurance
WMDE holds a foreign travel health insurance, which provides cover for foreign nationals who are staying temporarily in the Federal Republic of Germany on behalf of WMDE for a maximum period of 15 days. As Schengen visa applicants need to present a foreign travel health insurance and WMDE obliged to cover all subsistence costs, WMCON participants were provided with a foreign travel health insurance confirmation. WMDE learned that there are the following medical insurance requirements for a Schengen visa: minimum coverage must be 30.000€, cover must be valid within the Schengen region for the full duration of the stay and has to cover all expenses that are related to repatriation for medical reasons, urgent medical attention and/or emergency hospital treatment or death.
Copy of Register of Associations
As the embassies or consulates require a proof of the existence of the hosting organization, WMDE also sent participants a current copy of the register of associations. In Germany, this is the common way of proving an association’s existence.
Hotel Reservation and Travel Itinerary
As evidence of the planned travel, visa applicants are required to hold a hotel reservation (for whole duration of stay) and a travel itinerary. On the flight document, the entry and exit date as well as flight number should be specified. It is not required to hold a flight ticket for the visa application process, a flight itinerary is sufficient (see also the learning pattern “International events? Allow three months for visa formalities”). Thus in case the visa is refused, no travel costs will be incurred.
4. Collaboration with the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin
WMDE found it very useful to collaborate with the Federal Foreign Office, which is headquartered in Berlin, to smoothen the visa application process for the participants. Having one dedicated contact person there, facilitated the communication and collaboration enormously.
The person served as an intermediary between WMDE, the participants and the respective consulates/embassies. Primarily, WMDE informed the contact person about the upcoming event and the fact that participants will request for a Schengen visa in their country of origin.
By providing the Federal Foreign Office with the invitation letter and a list of participants (including information on date of birth, embassy/consulate where visa will be requested, place of origin), they could forward the list and documents to the consulates/embassies to confirm the existence of the event and to announce that participants will apply for a visa.
Last but not least, WMDE could consult the Federal Foreign Office in case of visa related questions or specific cases that occurred during the visa application process of a particular participant.
5. Visa section on the Event Page
Besides providing important visa information within the registration form and emails, it is also advisable to create a visa section on the event page. The visa application process is complex and time consuming. Visa applicants should have a profound understanding of it. Event hosts can ease this process by compiling essential information and drawing attention to the most crucial points that should be considered. Please find the visa section of WMCON16 page on meta. This visa section can be used for providing more elaborated information. In the subsequent, facts are depicted, which are considered to be valuable to be published on an event page. This information is also designated to increase and complete the knowledge of event hosts on visa matters.
Documents that need to be provided by participants
Visa eligibility is based on looking at the totality of a visa applicant’s situation. The supporting documents, which are provided by the event host, are of course not sufficient and decisive alone. Thus, the participants need to compile the below listed documents as well.
- Visa application form (see here for an example)
- Passport and photocopy of passport
- 1-2 Biometric photo(s), no older than 6 months
- Proof of roots/ ties back home:
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Document confirming occupation situation:
- Employees: Certificate of employer (including original signature)
- Scholars/ Students: current proof of school/ university enrollment etc.
- Unemployed/ Retired: Proof of residence (utility bill/rental agreement/signed letter from property owner
- Documents proving sufficient funds available for the trip (if costs for trip and stay is covered by participant):
- Current 3 months bank account statements
- if applicable: copies of old visas
Please note that this is just a compilation of the most common documents that need to be provided by visa applicants. The full set of required documents majorly depends on the country of origin of the applicant. Therefore, one should remind participants to carefully check this in advance on the website of the consulate/embassy.
Responsible embassy or consulate
The embassy or consulate of one's’ place of habitual residence is responsible for the processing of the visa. WMDE also experienced that some embassy or consulate of a participant's district did not offer visa services (e.g. Iraq) and the attendant would have need to travel to another district or country (the respective information is given on the embassies/consulate website).
In some countries a personal visit and interview at the embassy/consulate for visa processing is required. The purpose of the interview is mainly to assess whether the respective applicant is financially capable to cover for the trip and to ascertain the applicant’s return to the home country. Of course, interview questions vary heavily among applicants and visa sections. WMDE has listed the most common questions (collected within visa survey) below. Checking different blog posts on visa interview experiences may also be a valuable source for preparing for the interview.
- Where are you going?
- Have you been there before?
- What are you going to do there? What is the purpose of the trip?
- What kind of event is it that you will attend?
- How long will you stay?
- What is your organization? What does it do?
- What is Wikimedia? How are you involved with Wikipedia/Wikimedia?
- What is your relation to Wikimedia Deutschland?
- Who is paying for your trip?
- Why should you be permitted to go?
- What is the purpose of the conference?
- How were you selected to attend the conference?
- What is your profession?
- What do your family members do?
Thanks to the survey, WMDE learned that the WMCON participants mostly applied for a short term Schengen visa. A short stay Schengen visa allows a maximum of stay of 90 days within the Schengen area. Once the Schengen area was left and a return within the 90 days is planned, a new visa needs to be requested. A circulation (also called multiple entry) Schengen visa allows to leave and return to the Schengen area any time within 90 days.
Within the application form of the short term Schengen visa, the purpose of stay needs to be specified (business, family and tourist purpose). Some participants chose for “business” some “tourism” for WMCON attendance. WMDE advises to choose the business purpose as the proof of financial means can be provided by the inviting organization (if the host covers the total costs of stay) and there is no need to present personal financial means.
The Schengen visa fee for a stay of less than 90 days is currently €60 (see also here). WMDE reimbursed the participants for these fees and budgeted for it. Please also note that in case the visa is rejected, applicants do not get the visa fees reimbursed by the consulate/embassies.
Important travel documents
WMDE learned that it is useful to carry copies of all visa related documents while travelling. Although the participants have a visa, it is advisable that they have these documents with them, as some authorities may ask for those at the border control.
6. Fallbacks/ Visa Denial
What can participants do?
In case a visa is refused, the decisions as well as reasons for denial are sent to the applicant in written. WMDE noticed that some of these notifications were only sent in German and the participants would need to get it translated (WMDE offered that service).
After a visa application gets denied, the applicant has the possibility to appeal to this decision within a remuneration letter. Thereby, it is important that the applicant takes the refusal reasons into account and responds to them within the letter. Moreover, additional documents (that may have been missing) supporting the successful visa application should be attached. A remuneration letter should also entail the following:
- Visa application number
- Date of visa application submission
- Date of visa denial
What can event organizers do?
From the first contact with the participants in need of a visa, event organizers should highlight their willingness to support the participants with any visa application issues (particularly in case of a visa denial). In the event that the visa got denied and WMDE has been informed accordingly, the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin was contacted in first place to kindly ask for further action (they mostly got in contact with the concerning consulate). Secondly, WMDE called or wrote an email to the visa section of the consulate to ask for further instructions. Although the reconsideration of the visa application majorly depends on the letter of remuneration, which needs to be sent by the participant, WMDE noticed that event organizers have a major impact on the decision: Event organizers can reaffirm the importance of the person participating and can again confirm the existence of the event. This mostly boosts trust in the visa application.
Event organizers should also encourage the visa applicants to file a remuneration letter. Especially, when there is not much time left before the intended travel date, the event organizer can inform the consulate that a remuneration letter was submitted and highlight the importance of a fast review (normally it can take weeks until the letter is reviewed).
As shown within this learning pattern, event organizers can offer enormous support to conference attendants in the visa application process. Many details and things need to be considered, thought of and prepared in this respect. Also keep in mind that the quality and intensitivity of your support majorly influences the attendants satisfaction. A good support pays off: You will have grateful and happy attendants on site and be proud of yourself to contribute to a high number and diversity of participants.
Below you can find a checklist, summarizing the most important aspects that were elaborated within the learning pattern.
|Inform people well in advance about the event date and request for an early start of the visa application process|
|Ideally open registration at least four month before the event to allow enough time between the registration and the event|
|2. Registration Process Concept|
|Thoughtfully design the registration form to facilitate follow-up visa process
(for example WMCON registration form see here)
|Include visa information and relevant questions in registration form|
|Check incoming registrations continuously and initiate creation of visa documents|
|3. Supporting Documents provided by Event Organizers|
|Create templates and gather relevant documents before opening registration|
|The following documents should be provided by the event organizer:
|Check if you have a liability insurance for travel operators. If not get one!|
|Check if you have a travel health insurance with a minimum coverage of 30.000€ that is valid within the Schengen region for the full duration of the stay and covers all expenses related to repatriation for medical reasons, urgent medical attention and/or emergency hospital treatment or death. If you do not hold such an insurance, get one!|
|4. Collaboration with Federal Foreign Office|
|Contact the Federal Foreign Office well in advance and inform them about the event|
|Ask for visa support and dedicated contact person|
|Send visa documents for approval to contact person|
|Send participant list to Federal Foreign Office|
|5. Create Visa Section on Conference Page|
|Create visa section on event page (find an example here)|
|Integrate list of documents that need to be provided by participants as well as further information on the visa application (information on visa interview and costs etc.)|
|6. Fallbacks in Case of Visa Denial|
|What can participants do?
|What can event organizers do?
- Please note that it depends on the country of origin whether a personal appointment for submitting the documents or interview is required. In some cases, one can walk in at any time to submit the documents and no personal interview is necessary.
- The processing time-frame policy is subject to every embassies/consulate in the particular country.
- It is generally advisable to apply at least 6 weeks before the conference. In countries where Schengen visas are not that easy to receive, we recommend making it 8 weeks before.
- If your organization doesn't have a position like an Executive Director, we assume the president/chair of your organization would assume that responsibility.
- Grants:Learning patterns/International events? Allow three months for visa formalities
- Grants:Learning patterns/International travel
- This is important for an international event organised in a global north country to get good representations from all over the world. Taweethaも (talk) 01:19, 1 July 2017 (UTC)
- Very useful learning pattern and thanks for sharing! Flixtey (talk) 20:11, 1 July 2017 (UTC)
- Good idea. B20180 (talk) 22:33, 12 July 2017 (UTC)