Ministry of Foreign Affairs unveiled the first permanent Schengen Visa application centre in Maldives on Monday.
The 'Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) Schengen Visa Application Centre' was inaugurated by Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, Ambassador of Germany to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Joern Rohde and Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Maldives, Milan Hovorka at a special ceremony held at the ministry.
Maldivians travelling to Europe, with Germany and Czech Republic as their point of entry or location of longest stay, can now apply for Schengen Visas directly through the VFS centre located at the foreign ministry. The ministry stated that the centre is the "gateway to Europe" for Maldives, highlighting that Maldivians can also visit other Schengen countries via the visas after entering Germany or the Czech Republic.
Delivering remarks at the ceremony, Minister Shahid declared that the historic opening of the first permanent VFS centre in Maldives marked the fruition of a key objective of the administration, which was closely aligned with the wishes of the Maldivian people.
"This would undoubtedly ease the difficulties currently faced by many Maldivians in applying for Schengen Visa, especially the frequent, costly and time-consuming travels to Colombo and New Delhi for visa purposes", he said.
He stated that the VFS centre was part of the foreign ministry's objectives to provide quality consular services to Maldivians, and hailed the assistance and support of the German government.
"I take this opportunity to thank Ambassador Rohde for his commitment and personal dedication for this cause, without which this initiative would not have been possible”.
The foreign minister also thanked the Czech Republic for joining the effort and commencing visa services in Maldives.
"I thank Ambassador Hovorka for the outstanding work that the ambassador is doing to further strengthen relations between our two countries."
Thanking VFS Global for establishing the centre, Minister Shahid assured that the government is working to establish partnerships with more Schengen states.
He reiterated that the administration's long term objective is to secure visa-free travel to Maldivians travelling to member countries of the European Union (EU), asserting that the government will continue to engage with the EU in order to achieve this in the near future.
Speaking at the ceremony, German Ambassador Rohde Milestone also noted that the VFS Centre would make the visa application process more hassle-free and less costly for Maldivians.
Stating that it was the realisation of efforts that began last year, the ambassador also highlighted the success of the temporary Biometric Clinics for German Schengen Visas that were opened in Maldives in 2019 and in January this year. He highlighted that 400 Maldivians applied for visas in 2019, and that the number has reached 200 already in 2020.
The ambassador further noted Maldives recorded 132,000 German tourists in 2019, and expressed hopes that the VFS centre would also increase the numbers from Maldives to Germany.
Czech Ambassador Hovorka declared that the centre was also an important milestone for the Czech Republic. Highlighting that Maldives is one of the top tourist destinations for Europeans, he expressed wishes to increase Maldivian visitors to the region as well, adding that the centre would "promote multifaceted relations and bilateral ties beween Maldives and Europe".
The two ambassadors further expressed confidence that more Schengen administrations would form partnerships with the VFS centre in Maldives in the near future.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by Minister of Tourism Ali Waheed, members of the parliament, officials from the foreign ministry, and representatives from VFS Global and the embassies of Germany and the Czech Republic.