Have Russia and China gone too far with harvesting personal data for visa applications?

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) and European commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) give a press conference at the end of EU-China Summit meeting in April 2019. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

If you plan to travel to Russia or China for the holidays, you may be surprised by the countries’ visa application processes, both of which request a substantial quantity of personal data.

For applications to either nation, the applicant must indicate their annual income, details about current and previous employers, as well as information about parents and children, including their job positions or place and date of death.

In other words, in a single visa application to Russia or China, the traveller is asked to provide personal data concerning several other people.

Applicants for a Russian visa must list governmental and non-governmental organisations that he or she has worked for, and answer whether they have been part of a terrorist organisation or suspected of war crimes.

There is also a question on whether the applicant has publicly declared dismantling the constitutional system or territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. If the applicant has a social network account, the applicant is also required to disclose it.

In general, the Russian process focuses much more on political issues than Chinese. In addition, there are questions about drug use and the level of Russian language skills.

One question that will prove particularly challenging, is the requirement to list all the countries visited in the last ten years. Chinese offices request a list of the last five years only.

Both applications ask for disclosures of annual income. However, Russia is much more interested in the applicant’s financial situation. Moscow wants to know how much the visitor is planning to spend during the trip and how much will be particularly spent on accommodation and food.

The visa application is possible to fill out online on a special website of the Consular department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. China has been implementing a similar system among European countries since November.

The first countries in Europe where the new Chinese Visa Application Service was introduced included the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Czech Republic where the  system started in December. In previous years, people were filling a 4-page application, but ever since December it is 13 pages long, with many more detailed questions.

The system is currently accessible for 17 European countries. According to the Visa Application Centre, the aim is to provide the most convenient and quickest service for applicants for a Chinese visa.

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Completely new parts of the application focus on relatives in China and how a prospective trip will be financed. The applicant must provide full information about the person who pays the trip expenses and the person or entity that invited them to China.

Compared to the Russian application, China focuses more on questions about education and requires a very detailed description of the trip schedule. The complete itinerary with the number of the arriving flight must be indicated.

A European Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that the EU is engaged with China in a negotiation on facilitating the issuing of short stay visas for citizens. “In this framework the issue of supporting documents requirements is also being addressed.”

However, the Commission spokesperson added that the content of a visa application and the type of information requested is within the competence of the administration of the host nation.

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