Embassy tipped about visa fraud

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The Norwegian Embassy in Pakistan has received and forwarded tips to officials in Oslo about possible fraud involving visa applications. It’s not uncommon, they’ve been told, for visa applicants in Pakistan to pay dearly for written invitations to Norway, in the hopes that will help them secure a visa to Norway that also can serve as a gateway to all of Europe.

The Norwegian Embassy in Pakistan has forwarded warnings to Oslo that some Pakistani visa applicants have bought invitations to Norway, in the hopes the invitations will strengthen their applications for a visa that also would provide access to much of Europe. Norway’s embassy is located on the 7th floor of this building in central Islamabad. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Serena Business Complex

Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that a recent report, prepared by embassies for European countries that make up the so-called “Schengen Group” in Pakistan, estimates that as many as 80- to 90 percent of visa applications submitted to them in Islamabad contain false documents and incorrect information. The Norwegian Embassy is also singled out as among the “weakest links in the Schengen chain,” because of its deficient verification of documents attached to visa applications.

“The verification work is demanding,” Tore Nedrebø, Norway’s ambassador to Pakistan, told Aftenposten. Staff at the embassy he leads is only able to verify information and documentation in around 5 percent of the visa applications they receive. Efforts are being made to improve control and verification, but Nedrebø called the process time-consuming and difficult, also because of security challenges within Pakistan.

National day celebrations play unusual role
Aftenposten reported that the Norwegian Embassy alone has faced a large and rising stream of visa applications, a trend linked to Norway’s large Pakistani community and an unusually widespread tradition of its annual celebrations of Pakistan’s national day on August 14. Fully eight Norwegian-Pakistani organizations arrange formal celebrations, and it’s not unusual that guests from Pakistan are invited.

That’s just one occasion when Norwegian-Pakistani groups issue invitations. Norway’s embassy has now sent its own report home to Oslo about how it’s been told that invitations have been bought for large sums of money. Aftenposten cited the report as claiming that “several tips indicate that these invitations are sold directly or via middlemen to visa applicants, who pay dearly for the service.” The vast majority of invitations alone don’t meet demands for issuing a visa that also functions as a visa to all countries making up the Schengen region of Europe, within which residents and visitors can generally travel freely. Norway is part of Schengen through its own agreement with the EU.

Pakistan’s own ambassador to Norway, Riffat Masood, told Aftenposten that she hadn’t heard about any practice of selling or buying invitations, “but if this is happening, it’s terrible.” She encouraged efforts to find out who may be behind the practice, adding that Pakistan’s embassy in Oslo won’t want “to have anything to do” with organizations that engage in it.

Tips forwarded to relevant ministries
Norwegian Embassy staff in Islamabad couldn’t confirm why visa applicants would be willing to pay for invitations to special events in Norway, “but it can be because applicants think an invitation will strengthen their visa applications,” Ambassador Nedrebø told Aftenposten. He noted that applicants must document the goal of their prospective trip to Norway. “An invitation can in that connection be one of several documents to support the goal, but on it’s own isn’t enough to warrant a visa,” Nedrebø added.

He said it’s not possible for the embassy itself to investigate the practice of selling invitations or possible visa fraud, but he said information received about  it has been reported further to Norway’s foreign ministry, the justice ministry, immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) and its appeals board (Utlendingsnemda) in Oslo.

Officials of some Norwegian-Pakistani organizations told Aftenposten they’d also “heard rumors” of invitations being sold to visa applicants, while others confirmed first-hand experience with the practice. Invitations have been known to have been sold for as much as NOK 60,000 (USD 7,500).

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund