European visa rules are much stricter for Africans than for other regions, says report

The rejection rates for African applicants for Schengen visas are generally ten times higher than for Americans.


Image : Simon MAINA/AFP

With a 30% refusal rate, Africa topped the list of Schengen Area visa refusals in 2022, according to a new report from Henley & Partners, despite having the lowest number of visa applications per capita.

Algeria recorded 392,053 Schengen visa applications, 46% of which were rejected. For Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Mali, the refusal rates were between 40% and 45%.

The Schengen Area is an area encompassing 29 European countries that have officially abolished border controls at their mutual borders.

“The rejection rates for African applicants for Schengen visas are generally 10% higher than the global average, three times higher than the highest rejection rate, and ten times higher than for US-Americans”, says Mehari Taddele Maru, professor at the European University Institute, in the report.

“Despite justifications based on security or economic concerns, the European visa system clearly demonstrates apparent bias against African applicants,” he argues.

According to European states, most rejections are based on “reasonable doubts about the visa applicants’ intention to return home”.

Nonetheless, visa rejection is also being used as a condition for the return and readmission of illegal migrants in Europe, according to the report. “Essentially, it punishes African countries whose citizens are found to be illegally residing in Europe, and those with the lowest rate of return and readmission”.

Threat to economic mobility

The economic mobility of African citizens and their ability to travel abroad is heavily affected by these rules, according to the report. Visa applications are lengthy, often resulting in rejections, and in the best case, they suffer long queues at passport control.

So African citizens face a double whammy when it comes to international travel. Their visa applications are rejected at a much higher rate than those from other parts of the world, and their low passport power grants them visa-free access to far fewer wealthy countries.

The disparity is stark: while Hungary can boast visa-free access to 90.6% of global GDP, Nigeria has such access to a mere 1.5%.

“The lack of visa-free access restricts the flow of talent and expertise across borders, hindering regional and international collaboration and innovation,” says Chidinma Okebalama, senior consultant at Henley & Partners Nigeria.

“Your passport serves as a determinant of financial freedom, impacting individuals’ abilities to explore international business ventures, network efficiently, or engage in multi-national trade opportunities. Consequently, African entrepreneurs and investors are often left out of lucrative global markets, impeding their potential for economic growth and financial prosperity.”

A solution: investment migration

Africa has the six most open countries regarding visa-free entry, and investment migration is emerging as a potential further mechanism to accelerate Africa’s economic growth, according to Dominic Volek, group head of private clients and a member of the executive committee of Henley & Partners.

“By offering residence and citizenship by investment opportunities, African countries can attract vital foreign capital, stimulate job creation, and foster knowledge transfer. This not only benefits the host nations but also provides African high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) and their families with enhanced global mobility and risk diversification options,” Volek concludes.

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Adam Saidane