Across Continents

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Visa games

Passport

The application form for a tourist visit ran to ten pages, and required a myriad of supporting documentation. Details of your itinerary, employment, income, any criminal record. Whether you’d ever been a member of the Armed Forces, the Judiciary, even a security company. Or the media. Evidence of your ability to support yourself whilst visiting. If successful you might even need to register with the Police once you’d arrived.

Shades of the old Soviet Union? But this wasn’t some xenophobic, far off nation. No. It was the UK. Which is worth remembering when struggling to obtain visas on the road. I’m surprised anyone gets to visit Blighty, other than as an illegal immigrant. Not sure I’d even qualify for entry.

Keeping out miscreants, economic migrants, I can quite understand. In any country. That would be reasonable, almost a necessity, but I’ve seen much more evidence of paranoia as the rationale behind visa regimes than I have of a desire to exclude those who threaten a nation’s well-being. And political whim, drifting around in the breeze. Treating innocent travellers like pieces on a chess board.

Obtaining visas at Consulates is all about first impressions, a first taste of officialdom. Insisting on easily circumvented requirements, hindrances rather than genuine mechanisms to exclude undesirables, does little to instil a favourable opinion. Rather, by frustrating the genuine visitor, it suggests you lack confidence in your own system of Government, perhaps a degree of xenophobia. Something to hide.

You’d at least expect visa requirements, and fees, for a given nationality and place of residence, to be consistent between Consulates. But no. Substantive differences. Some insisting on visa support – the purchase, from suitable agents, of letters of introduction, airline tickets, hotel bookings. Adds little to the process, other than increasing the cost. Which means less money to spend when you actually get there. And guidance on immigration rules is often plain wrong. In fact, the only consistent feature seems to be that visas for US nationals are always the most expensive.

But what of the UK’s own visa regime? I’d travelled with an Azeri national with considerable experience of the system. He thought it robust, but consistent. There at least appeared to be a rationale behind it. And there was always an Appeals process if you felt you’re application hadn’t received proper consideration. English fair play.

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