German intelligence agencies have warned that controversial fast-track visa regulations have caused a rise in illegal immigrants from China and may be aiding Islamist terrorists, according to German media reports on Saturday.
The newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that the BND foreign-intelligence agency had warned Berlin on 7 March that many private Chinese travel agents were offering the visas to illegal immigrants wishing to enter the European Union.
Since September 2004, Chinese nationals have been eligible for group travel visas if they buy a package tour to Europe.
Berlin pushed for the fast-track tourist visas, which eliminate the need to apply in person at a German consulate, so that more Chinese would visit Germany.
With a rising number of Germans fearing that foreigners are taking scarce jobs, there has been media speculation in recent weeks that some travel agencies are fronts for Chinese gangsters known as ‘snakeheads’ who supply labour to Chinatowns.
In a story released before Monday publication, the news magazine Der Spiegel said the BfV domestic-intelligence agency had tried in January to forestall a liberalisation of visas for nationals of five Gulf nations including Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. The agency said there was a threat of terrorists making use of the visas in those countries.
EU governments later dropped a requirement for nationals from those countries to wait a week or more for visas.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer faces a parliamentary inquiry over allegations that he knew that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and other eastern Europeans were entering the EU on German visas between 2000-2003.
Opposition politicians alleged that large numbers of ‘tourists’ were crooks and prostitutes, drawing a cry of foul from Kiev.
Saturday’s issue of the mass-circulation daily Bild charged that visas were still being issued too generously, saying the consulates in Moscow, the Ukrainian capital Kiev and the Belarus capital Minsk had issued 467,976 last year, or to one in 400 of the population.
Fischer is to face questions before the inquiry on 25 April.
Another weekly, Focus, said supporters of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Fischer want a live telecast of the testimony, but opposition deputies fear this will prevent panellists from quoting secret memos in questions.