To Lady Sarah Ludford,
to Lady Sarah Ludford's office,
My wife and I we have an issue with some truly unexpected side effect
of the implementation of an EU Directive, the 2004/38/EC.
Please read the attached document,
Dear Lady Sarah Ludford,
I am an Italian citizen, living and working in London since slightly less than 3 years, therefore I have yet to vote for the European Parliament elections in a British constituency, anyway as in the last local elections I participated I voted primarily for the LDP candidates, I would like to ask you to let me to regard yourself as my own MEP.
I have an issue with some truly unexpected side effect of the implementation of an EU Directive, the 2004/38/EC.
In this letter I will present the matter two times, first as a short story, then as a longer and more meticulous account. I believe my tale would have intrigued Kafka, and although I understand the need for concision, which I am going to fulfil with the shorter version, I feel necessary to retell it on its full breadth.
At the end of both narratives I have some personal requests for you.
The short story
My wife of 15 months is a Turkish citizen, legally residing in the United Kingdom since 10 months and a holder of a Residence Card for Family members of EEA citizens, valid for the next 5 years.
The Italian Consulate in London has refused to provide my wife with a Schengen visa to travel into the EU. They motivated their decision with the fact that Italy has implemented the EU directive 2004/38/EC, which should provide for freedom of movement for family members of EU citizens inside the EU, therefore now they are refusing to provide visas to EU citizens’ spouses holding a British Residence Card.
As my wife’s next travel should be in Spain, the Spanish consulate instead sadly told us that the British Residence Card is worthless as a visa, and that the Italian consulate should provide my wife with a visa.
The Italian Consulate retorted that they have their hands tied, this is some Italian Government’s authority decision, and that although aware of the issue, the only thing they can do is notifying the Spaniards of the issue.
This so far led us to a huge disservice, as being an Italian citizen I was expecting the Italian consulate to provide my wife with a visa in 24 hours of less, while the Spaniards can’t care less about me or my wife, and vaguely promised to end the visa process application in 6 weeks or some more.
Also, given that main destination country of my wife’s travels on any foreseeable period of time will be Italy, this may lead Spain to refuse to provide a visa to my wife, if not this time the next time she would need one.
The meticulous account
My wife is a Turkish citizen. We have been dating for more than 8 years, and we are married for 15 months. Since 10 months my wife is living in the United Kingdom thanks to a Residence Card for Family members of EEA citizens. This Residence Card will be valid for next 5 years.
Italian consulates around the world are supposed, due an Italian law, to provide Schengen visas to spouses of Italian citizens for free and giving priority to their requests. As per our own experience, it took the Consulate of Istanbul less than 24 hours to provide my wife with a multiple entrance type C Schengen visa valid for 1 year. At that time, they clearly stated to us that next year they would have provided my wife with a multiple entrance type C Schengen visa valid for more than 1 year (C2, C3 or C5).
This visa has now expired since a few months, and because my wife is now a lawful resident of the United Kingdom, we went to ask another visa to the Italian Consulate in London.
It was one of the greatest surprises of my life that they refused my wife a visa. Their point was that because my wife is now officially resident in an EU country and she has a British Residence Card, she should be able to travel at will inside the EU without the need of a visa.
This is looking great on paper, but sadly it is not true. My wife needed to travel in Spain, so we went to the Spanish Consulate to verify their viewpoint, and as we had feared, the Spaniards told us they regard the British Residence Card completely worthless as a visa, and that because I am an Italian citizen, we should be provided a Schengen visa from the Italian consulate.
Back at the Italian consulate, I had a very kind phone conversation with the Italian consul herself, who told me she was aware of the issue, but they had received precise orders by the Italian government not to issue visas to EU citizens’ spouses holding a British Residence Card. I asked her to tell me which law and which authority was exactly forbidding my wife to get a visa, she could not give me an exact reference at the moment, but in her answer she clearly stated it was due the implementation of the EU directive 2004/38/EC.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I have read that directive, and I know that it is supposed to improve the freedom of movement of EU citizens and their immediate family, not to restrict the concession of visas for the spouses of EU citizens.
Anyway, given that it was exceedingly obvious also from her apologetical tone that she had her hands tied, and after she told me we weren’t the only couple sharing this very same problem, that she had already voiced her concerns about this matter to the Italian government and that she was going to call the Spaniards to make them aware of the issue, I thanked her and I left the Italian consulate.
With my wife, we went to the Spanish consulate, we filled all the required forms and we gave them the various photocopies they asked us, and then they told us it will took them 2 weeks to send us an invitation to an interview, and afterwards it may took 4 weeks to get an answer on the concession of a visa.
As everyone may see, this is a far cry from the 24 hour we had expected to wait from the Italian consulate, and surely the Spaniards will not provide my wife with the multi-annual type C we were lead to believe we would have got.
Fascinatingly, this is also posing a conundrum: as everyone who has dealt with the Schengen visa application process knows, the application should be done to the consulate of the main destination country of the applicant’s travels, but in the case of my wife, given that the main destination of our travels in any length of time will surely be Italy, and that Italy would not give her a visa, it would also means that as long as my wife is not an EU citizen but is a legally acknowledged EU resident, she would never get a visa, and the only EU countries she could legally travel into would be Italy and the United Kingdom.
To solve this Gordian knot we had to write in the application for the visa that the main destination for my wife’s European travels is Spain, which is a very tenuous assertion at best.
I had the idea to write to you after applying for help to the Italian Solvit centre.
In their complaint form they were asking who I tried to contact to solve the issue. At that point I had only contacts with the Italian and the Spanish consulates, and desolately the consulates, in part for their own nature, are between the governmental agencies probably one the most removed from the taxpayers which are backing them.
As the issue at stake here is a basic pillar of the EU structure, the freedom of movement, I felt I had to try to contact the political arm of the EU.
I am not sure how much power, time and will a MEP has to deal with a case like this, but I would like you to appreciate that in this story my wife and I we are like two small terracotta pots between two very big iron vases. Any help, advise or even some simple suggestion would be greatly appreciated.
Although at this point I don’t have the precise references of which exact law or regulation or simple burocratic decision is forbidding the Italian consulates to provide my wife or any other EU citizen’s wife holding a British Residence Card with a visa, I can’t stop to think that it is completely paradoxical that my wife’s right to free movement inside the EU should be restricted by a truly short-sighted interpretation of the implementation of the very same EU directive that should enforce that very same freedom of movement.
I may probably send to the some selected English media a slightly re-worked version of the longer account I gave you. As they are usually quite cold on EU related matters as such, I may try to warm up their interest adding some other details which are not really adding anything to the matter at stake, but that should give me some chance to attract their attention. If that will be the case, I will provide you with that version as well.