By Majd Othman

KUWAIT: The French Embassy to Kuwait held a press conference on Wednesday to respond to several rumors related to some aspects of the delivery of French visas in Kuwait. Ambassador of France to Kuwait Claire Le Flécher said that the rumors may conflate several separate though connected elements, part of which are factual information, while others are unchecked and malevolent suppositions.

The ambassador mentioned that the rumors include fraudulent backdoor channels that issue faster visa appointments, despite there being existing indeed limited channels for specific categories of people who have justifications for getting a visa according to a faster procedure. But these channels are absolutely transparent and devoid of any element of hidden price. "Their existence might create some confusion between legitimate fast-track procedures and illegal ones," she said.

She added, "Illegal practices or excessive invoicing of visa-linked services do exist. They can only be attributed to private intermediaries (travel agencies) hired by travelers without any intervention from the embassy, which does not exercise control over their activity. In addition to that, the electronic system of booking appointment is reliable and rigorously designed to prevent fraud. Notably, visa appointments are to be made mentioning a passport number, which cannot be modified afterwards."

The ambassador mentioned, "One factual element we have been fully aware of is the unusually high levels of visa applications, which have exceeded the capacities and entailed longer than usual delay of appointments in the visa center." She added, "We took all available measures to limit the impact of these delays. However, because of capacity limits, we were not in a position to eliminate them altogether and it might be so until the end of the summer period." Clarifying, "The travelers were reminded that visa applications can be applied several months ahead of the time of travel. However, many applications have still been applied quite lately, within less than a month before the travelling date."

The ambassador mentioned that in order to confront delays in visa issues, "the consular section at the embassy has mobilized its capacities to the full, so as to increase the number of applications handled by authorized agents of the embassy, while the daily rate of applications has gone up from 200 to 300 a day, and from April to June the number of handled applications has increased from 3,000 to 6,000 a month. As a whole in three months from April to June, 13,000 applications were processed as compared with 2,400 in the corresponding period of 2021."

The ambassador reminded that there are some categories of visa applicants who are fully exempted of booking an appointment and can go directly to the visa center, like holders of diplomatic passports; military personnel in official mission; people travelling for medical reasons with a certificate; students; as well as spouses and children of French citizens. They should therefore especially not pay any fee-based private services to get an appointment.

Regarding the visa appointments issue, the ambassador said, "The embassy has decided to take measures in order to prevent fake appointments made by unauthorized agencies. Henceforth, prepayment of a visa appointment will have to be made at the time of booking it electronically, in order to validate it. A delay of 48 hours was until now available to make the prepayment, while cancelled appointments will, as from now, not result in immediate and automatic opening of new appointment slots using the freed capacity."

"It seems conceivable that intermediaries have abused this by creating some time in advance fictitious appointments, and then cancelling them so as to reuse them right away for a traveler with a late visa application. Freed slots will be reopened only later, at a not predictable time so as to thwart this abusive practice," she explained.

"New slots will henceforth be opened over a period of six months, so as to incentivize a maximum number of travelers to introduce their visa applications as early as possible. As of now, appointment taking has been opened until the end of 2022," she pointed out.