Vienna, 25 November 2005 - The Ministry for Foreign Affairs wishes to make the following statement concerning allegations in connection with the issue of visas at individual diplomatic representations:
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs wants a thoroughgoing investigation of all allegations and is cooperating fully with the investigation authorities. Any abuses must be stopped; wholesale condemnations are, however, rejected.
Federal Minister Ursula Plassnik has set up an independent commission of experts tasked with clearing up the allegations and pointing out any abuses as well as with making the system still more abuse-proof for the future.
The aim is to guarantee an efficient and transparent visa issue system that is as secure as possible. 400,000 visas are issued every year. Only a negligible portion of the issued visas was subject to complaint.
Past allegations of illegal visa issue were immediately investigated by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior. In individual cases there were also enquiries by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which were, however, discontinued.
The ban on shredding visa files and the instruction to hold them securely has been issued to six representations to date. The response of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has thus been ongoing since 27 September, when it was notified of the investigations in connection with irregular visa issue. Subsequently, whenever new evidence has come to light, the representations in question have been instructed without delay to stop shredding visa files and to hold them securely.
The minimum period laid down by the EU for the holding of visa files at Austrian diplomatic representations was extended from one to two years as early as June 2005. This measure was taken at the request of the social security institutions which require a longer period of access to visa files in order to be able to claim regress.
The Common Consular Instructions apply to all Schengen States and stipulate a minimum period of one year for the keeping of files on issued visas; with this two-year term, Austria interprets these Instructions very strictly.
The shredding of files is necessary for practical reasons. In view of the fact that about 400,000 visas are issued annually at all Austrian representations taken together, the storage space available for keeping of visa files quickly becomes full, especially at representations where a high number of visas are issued.
It should also be noted that the key data on visa applicants are collected electronically during the application process and are saved and secured in a database on the server of each representation.
As a further measure, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is currently intensifying its training and further training activities in the visa field in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, which is in charge of technical supervision: on 18 November the heads of missions and the heads of the consular departments at the 13 representations issuing the highest number of visas received special consular instructions.
Moreover, a paper containing steps to optimise personnel and control measures has been elaborated and is already being implemented: among other things it provides for further improvements in the training of consular personnel and control measures at the representations, attaching special importance to the rotation of personnel in the consular services.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has also taken immediate concrete measures with regard to the personnel involved in the suspected cases of abuse: disciplinary action has been started against the retired employee who was arrested towards the end of September; the contractual employee was still actively employed by the Ministry at the time of his arrest but has meanwhile been dismissed.
Contact for further enquiries:
Ministry for Foreign Affairs
From Austria: 050 1150-3262, 4549, 4550
From abroad: ++43 50 1150-3262, 4549, 4550
Fax: 050 1159 213 bzw ++43 50 1159 213