Insider news & Analysis in Iran
Black Market Scheme

By Edward Carney

 In Iran today, people are having difficulties finding products like diapers and tomatoes. The economy continues to worsen under renewed US sanctions.

The most difficult items to obtain, however, are European visas. Many Iranians want to leave the country and be free from the pressure of sanctions. People stand in lines that wrap around the block at European embassies in Tehran. No official statistics are available, but a government adviser and economist put the figure of those trying to emigrate at 1.5 million, calling it “a scary number”.

Student Kouroush Jahani said, "I went to the German embassy two months ago, and I also checked their website. I realized the closest date for an appointment is late 2019 and early 2020. This is ridiculous.”

Another student who is trying to apply for a German visa, Sahar Mostofi, said she had already started talking to professors in Germany, but then she was also told that the earliest she could apply is next year. “Their answer was shocking for me - as if someone had thrown a bucket of cold water on me,” she said.

Farshad Hasani, a student who wants to study in Italy, was told to register on the embassy’s website, which said appointments could be made during certain hours. “But when I entered those few times, no appointment was available,” he said.

A new industry has emerged, comprised of visa middle men and companies that bridge the gap between supply and demand. These companies promise to shortcut formalities, and secure appointments at an embassy of choice for roughly $1000 – the equivalent of three months of rent. They even promise visas, and specialize in different visas. One claims it can get Italian visas. Another advertises opportunities to help customers obtain visas to the US.

One company representative is reported to have claimed, “It is impossible for you to get an appointment time and visa soon if you want to apply all by yourself. We can get you a visa for $1,000.”

Mostofi, the student who hoped to go to Germany, said she has also seen individuals offering these kinds of services outside of embassies. “They are middle men working on their own and aren’t related to the tourism companies. I asked one of them, and he surprisingly told me, 'I would get you an appointment time for the next month and the fee is 2,500 euros ($2,907)’."

Iranian students recently staged a protest at the Italian embassy, criticizing low staffing numbers and slow response times to their applications. “Please do not deprive us of education,” said one banner. “We are about 200 eligible students who provided all the required documents,” said another.

Hasani, who wanted to go to Italy, said, "I'm really angry with the dishonest behavior of the embassies and tourism companies. They are swindling us. I'm a student and why should I pay $3,000 to a tourism company? This situation is frustrating everyone.”

The longest waits seem to be at the German embassy. On its website, applicants for student visas are told that there is more than a 12 month waiting period for their visa.

The Berlin prosecutor's office announced earlier this year that it was investigating bribery allegations in Germany’s embassies in Tehran and Beirut. A spokesperson for the prosecutor told journalists that Iranians had paid between 5,000 and 10,000 euros ($5,756 - $11,531) in bribes for visas.

The German foreign office acknowledged that it is aware of the prosecutor's investigation, but had no information about allegations against employees at the German embassy in Tehran.

A spokesperson from the German embassy in Tehran said, "The embassy has no information about an alleged 'sale' of visas to students. Should a company offer to 'sell a visa', such a visa could only be fake. Our appointment system follows strict quality criteria.”

The Italian embassy in Tehran and the Italian foreign affairs ministry in Rome did not comment.

Iranian foreign minister spokesperson Bahram Qassemi recently said, "We have received reports from the Iranian citizens about the actions of the Italian and Germany embassies. We are currently studying this issue.” He added, "Our advice to the foreign embassies in Tehran is to protect the rights of Iranian citizens and present them with the proper and comprehensive consulate assistance.”

Still unable to get an appointment with the German embassy, Jahani, the student who was told he must wait until 2019 or 2020 said, “I'm not completely disappointed. I was admitted to university, but my plan is torn apart now. I have to wait for several months. During this period, I will also focus on some other countries. I will do my utmost efforts to get a visa.” Still, he allowed, ”If I find a good job in the next few months with a satisfactory salary, I will stay in my country."

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