Don’t underestimate the power of Schengen Visa Officers

I wanted to title this post as, *’Usss appa, Schengen Visa’. But the sis has already blocked/patented that title for a book that she intends to write soon.

Just back from a rocking trip to Europe that covered 3 countries- France, Switzerland, and Italy, with a tiny entry into Germany’s beautiful Black Forest. The sonny would be miffed if he hears me say 3 countries because I’m sure he’s already been telling all and sundry that he visited 5 countries, adding Germany and Vatican to the list!

While there is loads I’d like to share about the trip, the places, the travel, the food, and the great company, I’d first like to offload a big part of the entire project – obtaining Schengen Visa. Clearly, we underestimated the documentation needed. I’ll, in this post, try to give a comprehensive account of what women need to do to obtain the visa.

A little preamble on our travel group
We were a group of 11 of which 8 of us were women and 3 teenagers. Of the 8 women, one falls in the category of ‘working youth’ by virtue of being a twenty-something working woman. The rest of us fall under the more glamorous and fashionable middle-aged group which today ranges from mid thirties to early forties 🙂 One of them is a homemaker. Now, stop doing the math and get to reading what is more important- how to successfully get a schengen visa. No, strike that. The best practices to obtaining a Schengen visa.

Typical reasons for Visa rejections

There are enough and more Schengen visa processing horror stories on the web. And they are true stories. Six from our group were refused visa! But we all have read and stayed inspired by Mohammed Ghazni’s relentless attempts. And it really helped in this case:) The typical grounds for rejections are:

1. Proof of subsistence: A fancy way of saying that there isn’t enough proof of your having the financial means to support your trip expenses- travel, stay, food, all included.
2. Proof of return: Implying, there isn’t enough proof of your return.

The 2nd reason is annoying at one level because while it questions our credibility, it also assumes that we’d not want to return to our homeland because the country we are applying into is so compelling that we’d not want to leave! That said, looks like lot of people abuse tourist visas and illegally settle in these countries.

Who should submit what

1. Woman of any age/social/career status-
A sure-shot way where you or your documents are not subject to too much scrutiny for granting Schengen visa is to have a valid US Visa. It is almost the gateway to schengen visa. So, if you have a valid US visa, you are through. If it is a viable, doable option, get a US visa if an opportunity presents itself 🙂

2. For married, stay-at-home women– If you are married and a home maker, submit enough proofs of your family wanting you back here. As proof of subsistence, submit your,

  • bank statement with a consistent bank balance and regular transactions that show upwards of Rs.1.lac as balance
  • submit your spouse’s bank statements, pay slips, IT returns,
  • property documents, fixed deposits in your name, [or]
  • value estimation of jewels worth, duly attested by an advocate and a notary public.

Note that it might not be necessary all the time. But the grounds for rejection are very frivolous. So, provide as much documented proof of your financial capability to undertake the trip, as possible.

As proof of return, get ‘no-objection’ to your tour letter from everyone on this planet. But of course, I’m exaggerating. Get the NOC letters from your spouse, which explicitly states that you will be returning home on the specified date as you have responsibilities back home- aged parents care, home care, young children needing your care, pets-care et al.

Besides documents that substantiate the above two reasons, enclose all other documents cited in the VFS website. Do not assume that the VFS folks will provide some good advice on what to and what not to submit. Even if they reject and tell you some documents are not required, insist that they submit. You are the one paying the fee. They are only the collection agents and have no clue whatsoever on what works and what doesn’t. They are not advisors. Go ahead and submit even if it is extra documentation and even if those folks look at you askance.

3. Single, young, working woman – You are in the high-probability-of-rejection category. I’m not trying to scare you. Merely stating the facts here. You are a twenty-something, educated, single, high prospects of securing a job in a foreign land, or getting hitched to a foreigner! Here are the docs you must submit:

As proof of subsistence,
1. The usual – bank statement with balance of 1.lac or upwards for the previous 6 months and consistent transactions, pay slips. In addition, you can consider submitting PF statements, FD proofs, receipt of currency exchange purchased for a sizeable amount (at least 50K).
2. Proof of property if you are that enviable 20-something with a property to your name (land or apartment or a bungalow ;))
3. If you have a boyfriend or if you are engaged to be married soon, a letter or a proof of engagement or upcoming wedding to take place after the date of your arrival from the tour 🙂

As proof of return,

1. Besides the mandatory covering letter from the employer for leave sanction, covering letters from you parents, expressing that you’d return back to take care of them.
2. Letter from your brother (if you have one), assuring that you’ll return home to the family of birth and that they have a future planned for you.
3. Letter from others traveling with you, vouching for your return.
4. Letter from your education institution if you are pursuing studies.
5. Fee payment for the subsequent months to an institution where you are pursuing some course, anddddddd, hold your breath,
6. Proof of your having registered for your favorite marathon and also proofs of your participation in similar or same event the previous years!!! That, dear friends, is the additional proof the ‘youth’ in our group submitted the 3rd time in addition to a collective covering letter signed by the rest of the women going on this party, along with our ID proofs!

4. Single mom – The proofs substantiating subsistence are pretty much the same as above. As proof of your return, here are the documents:

1. Covering letter from your aged parents stating that you are their support and that you’d return soon after your tour to take care of them,
2. proof of your kid(s) schooling and the fee paid up, birth certificate of the kids to establish you as the rightful parent

These same rules may apply to single male youth, single middle-aged or old-aged men, married, employed men, or married stay-at-home husbands/dads. Just that I wouldn’t know what other reasons they’ll be scrutinized for 🙂

Summary: While most sites and discussions talk about a minimum of 1lac as bank balance, it is better to show a much bigger balance if you are applying for any visa the first time. For those of us with a valid US visa, a lesser bank balance didn’t get in the way. Those with more than twice that balance, still had the visa rejected. This is where property documents help. In cases where property docs were unavailable, we submitted PF statements. The folks at VFS even rolled their eyes.

Coming to the big question of whether it is really worth walking all this length to get ourselves a visa permit for 2-3 weeks, well, it depends. When 6 in our group got rejected, it took the joy out the entire plan. From a state where we were all mighty excited about doing a dream Europe trip, we were left angry, fuming, dejected, like deflated balloons. And then we researched a bit more. While we had practically abandoned the trip, we decided to collate more proofs and submit again. Just to see how much we can push and what vague reasons we’d be given again for rejection. So the 6 got everything together. All the documents cited above! Some had property documents in Tamil! The 2nd time, 5 visas came through and one- the youth’s- got rejected again for the same reason of lack of proof of return! But the second time, we had not submitted a collective letter from the rest of the group vouching for her return. We did not know it then. We did not know if that will hold as additional proof of her return. We did it anyway the 3rd time. She also submitted a copy of a marathon she had registered for a few weeks earlier and is to take place a couple of months hence. She also established that she is a regular at this event by submitting proofs of her previous participations. She got the visa the 3rd time! The trip however, made up for all the disappointments we faced during the visa processing, and was worth all that effort!!

So, to conclude:

1.Start your visa processing three months before the actual, intended, journey date. This gives you time to reapply if your visa is rejected.
2. Don’t underestimate the need for documentation.
3. Don’t cook up false documentation as you don’t want a ‘reject’ stamping on your visa.
4. Submit all possible proofs if it can in some way validate your financial capability and also of your return to the county. It can be a cricket or soccer match for which you’ve booked a ticket, another travel plan within the country for which you’ve booked tickets, anything! It might look silly. The collection centers might refuse. While someone’s property document in Tamil was accepted, another’s was rejected at the center!
5. Don’t mind being mocked at or laughed at.
6. Make all the covering letters very detailed. Emphasise early in the letter that the purpose is tourism and that you’ll return on the said date. All the covering letters must very clearly and explicitly state these keywords. As a conclusion in the covering letters, split and cite documents as two sets- those that substantiate your subsistence, and those that vouch your return. Use the exact keywords; example- “I vouch for my daughter’s return….”, “We assure you that will return to work after the sanctioned vacation that ends on , “We vouch for our friend/colleague’s return with us on the same day, on the same flight back home. We would be sad and disappointed to go on this trip without ” yada, yada! I’m sure you get the drift.
7. While you can apply through agents, there is no guarantee that the visas will be through. Again, the agents can only provide expert advice on the required documentation. There are several instances where even processing through big names like Thomas Cook, get rejected.

The easiest, safest, bestest (allow the superlative please!) way to get it right the first time is to submit ALL THE DOCUMENTS and possibly a copy of your horoscope, duly attested by a noted astrologer and a notary public! Here’s to happy Schengen visa stories folks! More soon on the actual trip to the phoren-land! And yes, remember to register for a marathon. It does more than substantiate your belief in a cause or good health 😉 Three cheers!

*Usss appa- a deep sigh. No, strike that. It is the deepest sigh!

Part 2- To go or not to go.
Part 3- Poguma, pogadha?

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