Apology over visa delays to Europe
Manama, July 12, 2010
French Ambassador Yves Oudin has issued a personal apology to visa applicants facing major delays.
He said he welcomed any suggestions from the public on ways to improve and fast track the visa process.
It follows a string of complaints from Gulf Daily News (GDN) readers, who have found it difficult to get appointments and faced long waits at the embassy as they try to plan their holidays.
Travellers hoping to visit all European countries requiring a Schengen visa have faced difficulties, since those applications are handled by the French Embassy.
Since December 2007, the embassy has been authorised to issue only 'biometric visas', meaning applicants, excluding those under 13, have to show up in person to be photographed and fingerprinted.
Appointments are mandatory and applications cannot be made at the embassy counter, by phone or by e-mail. However, Oudin said there was no quick-fix solution to problems facing visa applicants.
He said he felt particularly sorry for Bahraini families trying to secure visas to enter his and other countries.
'I do apologise to those who are genuinely trying to make an appointment,' Oudin told a Press conference at his home in Manama.
'The main problem we have is under-staffing and we cannot afford more staff.
'We're open to new ideas from people on how we might be able to reduce the waiting time, we know the software and the system we have is not perfect.'
He said that one possibility was to subcontract the application process, but that would mean the cost of the visas will be much more expensive.
'It may mean the price is increased three or four-fold and I don't think people would want that,' said Oudin.
'In the French Foreign and European Affairs Ministry, there are some people who support this idea, but there are others who are against it.'
The ambassador said many people were planning trips to France and other countries in Europe, especially with the current exchange rate.
'We are obviously very happy about that, but the problem is that we don't have enough staff,' he said.
'I am responsible for my staff here and I don't want them breaking down.'
Oudin claimed the cancellation of appointments by some applicants without notice meant appointments could now only be made for the following day at either midday or 1.30pm sharp.
He said that the embassy could only accommodate up to 45 appointments per day and was doing its utmost to ensure those are carried out thoroughly and as quickly as possible.
The period between mid-April and mid-July was peak time for people to apply for visas, meaning appointments were more difficult to secure, added the ambassador.
Oudin said 909 visas to France and other countries in the Schengen region had been delivered during June, amounting to an average of 41 visas per working day. He said, however, that the waiting time for the visa application process had been reduced from up to 14 days to just two to three days in recent years.
The ambassador made his comments ahead of the French national holiday Bastille Day, which falls on Wednesday.
During the Press conference Oudin said Bahraini-French relations were on the up.
'Bilateral trade between Bahrain and France has been steadily increasing for the last four years,' he said.
'It has multiplied more than five times between 2005 and last year, from 141 million euros (BD67 million) to 783 million euros (BD372 million).
'As far as foreign direct investments (FDI) in Bahrain are concerned, France is happy to say that it is in the pole position among countries of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OECD).
The ambassador highlighted the participation of GDF Suez in three private water and power production projects in Hidd, Al Ezzel and Al Dur.
This is in addition to the next investment of 830 million euros (BD394.5 million) by Constructions Industrielles De La Mediterranee in a waste incinerating plant. 'These investments pushed the French integrated development environment (IDE) in Bahrain well above $2 billion (BD756 million),' said Oudin.
'Today, more than 50 subsidiaries of French companies are operating in Bahrain. Banks like BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole CIB or insurance companies such as AXA have become major actors nobody can ignore on the financial market.'-TradeArabia News Service