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Numbers speak for themselves - Julia Farrugia Portelli

We are becoming fast-accustomed to spurious and outlandish allegations that tend to be circulated through predictable channels for the sole purpose of damaging the reputation of Malta on a European and global level. A lie, no matter how small, ends up in the European Parliament as a fact and read out from briefs that are being maliciously spread to certain members of the European Parliament.

This time around, it is the claim that in a handful of months between 2013 and 2014, Malta had issued a gargantuan and unjustifiable amount of Schengen visas and a mysteriously opaque undisclosed number of medical visas.

It is unfortunate that there are those who opt to echo these allegations without conducting even the most fundamental fact-checking – either because they are seeking to capture a few headlines, or because they are briefed by persons who are motivated by an agenda of their own. Facts and figures disprove these allegations.

Actual verifiable statistics as confirmed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Central Visa Unit and the Immigration Section of the Police Corps paint a different and considerably more down-to-earth picture.

The numbers speak for themselves.

In 2013, Malta issued a total of 36,518 visas – a far, far cry from the alleged 88,000 Schengen visas issued.

The actual criticism of our visa system is that it is not expedient enough for some, and not because that it is too lax

A difference of over 50,000. So much for a margin of error. I tried to delve into the matter further to understand where this rounded figure of 88,000 came from.

I tried to go back to when the period of Libyan unrest was at its peak in 2011 until 2018 to see if the numbers really add up to 88,000. But even over a seven-and-a-half-year period, the number stands at 69,098.

Also way less than the unsubstantiated number of 88,000.

Dissecting these statistics further, it is notable that 21,045 visas were issued bet-ween 2011 and the beginning of March 2013 (under the previous PN administration). This means that 30 per cent of the total Schengen visas issued to Libyan nationals in the seven-year period between 2011 and 2018 were issued by the former Nationalist administration in just two years.

Of course, this increase in numbers must be read within the context of the Libyan humanitarian crisis that arose in the wake of the Arab Spring and the consequent civil war that saw the end of the Gaddafi regime. The relationship between Malta and Libya was traditionally characterised by cooperation, solidarity and strong trade relations.

Away from the speculative headline-hunting, however, the fact remains that the visa system in Malta is a robust one.

Suffice to say that Malta has among the highest refusal rate in the EU.

In 2013 and in 2014, Malta had the second highest rate of refusal, with 10.1 and 14.8 per cent respectively (Belgium having the highest). In 2015, 2016, and 2017 Malta consistently had the highest refusal rate in the European Union with 25.2, 21.1, and 25.2 per cent, respectively.

This can be confirmed with a cursory examination of the official Schengen visa information online portal, which ranks Malta among the five top countries for visa request refusal. These are easily verifiable facts, which raise serious questions on the authenticity of the allegations being made, as well as the professionalism of those who echo these claims without subjecting them to even the most basic scrutiny.

I will not comment on a court case which is pending, but I will certainly take this opportunity to commend the sterling work that is being done by all the authorities concerned in this field, namely the Central Visa Unit, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the immigration section of the Police Force.

These entities are carrying out exceptional work in ensuring that the routine security checks are maintained despite working with employers who often face considerable staff shortage pressures – a factor which is a direct consequence of the unprecedented economic growth that Malta is experiencing, and its booming attractiveness to foreign investment.

In reality, the actual criticism of our visa system is that it is not expedient enough for some, and not because that it is too lax.

This criticism can be understood, and we are engaged in a continuous review and evaluation processes to identify and address inefficiencies. This without ever compromising the security and rigorousness of our systems, which is paramount.

It is one thing to not be aware of the facts. It is quite another to persist in spreading provably false information and claims.

We are all for constructive criticism, but we draw the line at false and misleading information. We will, once again, protect Malta from the unfair accusations being levelled at us.

Julia Farrugia Portelli is Parliamentary Secretary for Reforms, Citizenship and Simplification of Administrative Processes.

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