Armenian Businessmen ‘Hurt’ By Stricter EU Visa Rules

By Irina Hovannisian

Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
March 14 2007

Armenian businessmen and top company executives complained on Wednesday
that traveling to the European Union has been far more difficult
for them over the past year due to what they see as an unjustified
toughening of EU visa rules.

The mostly wealthy individuals affiliated with Armenia’s main business
association claimed that the stricter requirements are increasingly
hampering their commercial ties and other transactions with EU
companies. They were particularly critical of the German consulate in
Yerevan, which also issues visas for other, smaller European states
making up the Schengen zone.

"We have no problem getting a visa from the American, Indian and
other embassies," said Georgi Avetikian, director of the Yerevan-based
aluminum foil plant Armenal. "At the German embassy, you have to wait
for hours just to get interviewed by a consulate official."

"Also, a businessman had to hold seven-day negotiations in an
EU country but was granted only a five-day visa recently," said
Avetikian. "I can’t understand that either."

Gagik Abrahamian, who runs a local jewelry company trading with
Belgium, complained that he was recently denied a Schengen visa
despite submitting a written invitation from his Belgian partners.

"Our partners from a famous Belgian company applied to their foreign
ministry but did not get a reply," he told a roundtable discussion
with officials from the Armenian Foreign Ministry.

According to Abrahamian and other participants, until last year
Armenian business travelers were easily granted Schengen visas if
they presented supporting letters from the Union of Industrialists
and Manufacturers of Armenia. Many were even spared the need to be
interviewed by relevant consulates in person, they said.

"In the past year this system has not functioned properly,"
the union’s chairman, Arsen Ghazarian, told RFE/RL. "In our view,
there are too many undue delays and refusals, especially concerning
[company] managers who have to often travel abroad to negotiate and
sign agreements."

Tigran Seyranian, head of the Foreign Ministry department on consular
affairs, blamed the apparent toughening of visa procedures on the high
rate of illegal emigration from Armenia to Europe. He argued that in
France alone at least a hundred Armenian citizens apply for asylum
every month. Seyranian also suggested that some Armenian business
people may have had "problems" with EU immigration authorities in
the past.

Ghazarian insisted, however, that no member of his association has
ever overstayed an EU visa or lived in an EU country illegally. "The
union has existed for ten years and there hasn’t been a single case of
a union member staying illegally or breaking the law there," he said.

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