A verdict from April 27, 2023 was publicly reported on May 9. Kosovo’s Commercial Court prohibited the visa-processing center Visametric from forcing Schengen visa applicants to pay additional money to receive passports by courier service. The verdict requires Visametric to enable applicants to collect their passports directly from the Visametric offices.
Visametric is a private company which has been contracted by the German Embassy since September 2022 to process visa applications in Kosovo. The lawsuit against the company was filed by lawyer Flamur Abdullahu in November 2022.
Germany was among the last EU states to outsource these services to private companies. Most did so between 2013 and 2015. Today, TLScontact and VFS Global process visa applications for states such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, France, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Visametric, which operates in 11 countries, has required Kosovars to pay an additional 30 euro fee to send items to applicants by courier service. This mandatory fee was the same for everybody, whether they lived in the same Prishtina neighborhood as the Visametric office or in a different municipality outside Prishtina. There were cases where members of the same family paid 30 euros each despite their passports being delivered to the same address bundled together in a single envelope.
Visametric charges Kosovars more for courier services than they do in any other country where they operate. In Azerbaijan, document delivery is an additional service and costs 10 euros. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the service costs seven euros, in Turkey six euros and in Iran nine euros. In Russia and Ukraine, the fee depends on the destination. Most of these states have higher GDPs per capita than Kosovo. Meanwhile, the Visa Code that regulates visa application procedures for EU member states calls for fees that are adapted to local circumstances.
K2.0 February 2023 article “We are in a real ghetto,” notes that Visametric did not allow applicants to decide whether they wanted to receive their passports by mail or if they wanted to collect them from the Visametric office. While Visametric’s website listed delivery as an additional service, interviewees said the website did not allow them to not choose delivery. They also said that at the Visametric office they were given a document which they had to sign stating that the applicant agreed to have their passport delivered despite the fact that they had expressed the desire to collect it in person. According to them, in addition to having to pay 30 euros per passport delivered, Visametric required them to sign a document stating that they do not hold Visametric responsible if their passport is lost by the courier service.
From April 27, 2023, the Commercial Court’s decision prohibits Visametric from forcing customers to sign such documents.
As reported in “We are in a real ghetto,” the Visa Code requires that the amount for service payments should not exceed 40 euros. Visametric required a total of 60 euros — 30 for their service and 30 for mandatory courier services.
Regardless of the Visa Code, the recent news about Visametric shows that the requirement for applicants to pay for delivery is contrary to the Consumer Protection Law. As an economic operator registered in Kosovo, Visametric is obliged to respect this law.
How did the Commercial Court come to its decision?
Since its establishment in February 2022, the Commercial Court judges all commercial disputes and administrative conflicts. K2.0 requested and received the court’s decision on Visametric.
According to these documents, some of which have been public since May 9, in November 2022, lawyer Flamur Abdullahu submitted a lawsuit and a proposal for a temporary measure against Visametric in the Commercial Court. According to the Law on Consumer Protection, until a final decision is made the court can issue a temporary measure ordering the suspension of procedures that violate the collective interests of consumers.
Visametric was asked to stop requiring applicants to pay for delivery and to allow applicants to pick up their passports themselves at a VisaMetric office. It also called Visametric to stop its practice of forcing applicants to pay 60 euros for additional prime-time services during December, which allows applicants to submit their visa application outside usual working hours.
At the end of December 2022, the court partially approved Abdullahu’s proposal. As a result, Visametric was prohibited from requiring applicants to receive their passports by delivery, making applicants pay for delivery and making applicants sign to agree to receive their passport by courier (including the online form where the courier service is automatically selected by Visametric). The decision called for Visametric to allow applicants to collect their passports at the Visametric office. The proposal to stop seeking payment for prime-time services was rejected.
This decision initially did not enter into force because Visametric appealed it on January 17. The court rejected the appeal and on March 15 reaffirmed its December decision. Visametric lodged a complaint against the decision and on April 27 the court issued a final verdict re-confirming their March 15 decision and rejecting Visametric’s appeal as groundless.
With the decision now final, Kosovars can no longer be obliged to pay for courier service delivery and have the right to choose whether they want to pick up their passport at the Visametric office or receive it by mail.