Often, volunteers participating in camps need a visa to travel to the country of the hosting organisation. Volunteers are themselves responsible to obtain any needed visa to join the project they applied for. The sending organization can have an advisory role, if possible.
The hosting organization must provide all the necessary and possible support to help the volunteers get the visa. This often includes visa invitation letters or registration of the volunteer to national authorities. Anyway, SCI only helps volunteers to get visa for the voluntary project itself (plus reasonable time for travel back and forth) and not for longer time than that.
What is the process?
- Sending organisation fills in the visa form for the volunteer. You can find the visa form in the Members Area; it asks for all the needed information that the hosting organisation needs. The visa form needs to be sent to the hosting organisation together with the volunteer’s confirmation within one week after the volunteer is accepted to the camp.
- Hosting organisation writes a visa invitation letter for this volunteer and sends it by post (or electronic form required by the embassy if provided) to the sending organisation within one week after the visa form was received. (For example: Russian volunteers applying for visa in lots of European countries, Japan and Korea, the invitiation letter is needed by post at least 1,5 months before the project start.) The invitation letter can sometimes also just be sent scanned and sent via e-mail, if the sending organisation consider this as enough for their volunteers.
- Once volunteers get (or are refused) the visa, they must inform the sending organisation, which at the same time informs the hosting organisation.
What should a visa invitation letter (not) contain?
- Never use the word ‘work’ in invitation letters for incoming volunteers and their visa procedures (say ‘youth/cultural exchange’).
- Check the information (passport number, date of issue, date of expiry, date of birth, spelling of names etc.) given in the invitation letter before sending it.
- If the invitation letter is in a national language, an English translation should be attached.
- In the invitation letter, you should clearly state that food, accommodation and insurance will be paid by the hosting organisation.
- If possible, ask in the invitation that the visa is issued or free (i.e.: SCI is an organisation of public utility; for people under 25 years of age, students, etc.).
- Allow for 3 travel days before and after the workcamp in invitation letters – issue invitation letter with extra 3 days before and after the camp automatically, and consider up to 7 before and after on request (SCI insurance will not cover more than an extra 6 days in addition to the workcamp).
- If you as a hosting organisation are within the European Union, add the following link: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-10-111_en.htm to the invitation for Schengen countries to encourage the embassy to give the 15 days grace period.
- Add the complete address to the camp site (this is e.g. needed for applications from Turkey or Russia).
Extra recommendations for the visa process
- The Practical Procedures lists tips about visa procedures in some countries (e.g. Russia).
- Hosting organisation: Office staff should deal with visa procedures for incoming volunteers, rather than an LTV who doesn’t speak the language of the inviting country and/or lacks local knowledge
- Make sure there is enough time for volunteers to get their visas in advance.
- Sending organisation: Make volunteers aware of transit visa regulations, if you think volunteers might have a non-direct transfer.