Thursday, 9 April 2009

Visa is a four letter word

Business travel is painful at the best of times. Especially if you do lots of it internationally. Air travel these days is not nice at all - the long commute to airports, overcrowded airports, long and winding security queues, delayed flights, cramped seats, apology for food, and so on. But at the top of the pain list, for citizens of "lesser" countries like me, must be the four letter word - Visa.

As an Indian citizen, I am a second class citizen in the world's eyes. The only countries I don't need a visa to travel are Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Hong Kong (bless their souls). Everywhere else, I need this dreaded stamp on the passport. Chinese citizens are in the same boat. So, half the population in the world is second class.

In law, there's a basic principle - you are innocent until proven guilty. But when it comes to immigration law, you are guilty until proven innocent. Consulates genuinely believe that every visa applicant is a cheat and wants to somehow emigrate to their country, which they believe is heaven. Please .....

So this dreaded process goes as follows

  • You have to submit tons of documents. Some of them are plain ridiculous. And the consulate is just looking for an excuse to return the pile to you - lets say there's an ink smudge at the bottom of the page !
  • You need to produce a special photograph. And of course every country has its own rules on photograph. End result, I must be the most photographed man on earth. Once I was so irritated that I went to a studio, asked the photographer to click every conceivable type of photograph, print about 300 copies , dumped the whole lot on my secretary and then refused to go to a photo studio again. And I got caught out by the French embassy which stipulates that you cannot smile in the photo (I am not making this up).
  • Then some idiots require you to come in person. These are the worst. You have to fight to get an appointment and travel to the city where the consulate is and spend a degrading 4 or 5 hours in the process. I am convinced that the rudest people in the world are the lot in the visa sections of consulates.
  • And then you wait. With you passport stuck and you can't travel anywhere or apply for a visa to the next country you are going to.
  • When you reach the country, you stand in a long and winding queue specially meant for citizens of lesser countries and go through the process of answering sometimes downright rude questions with a straight polite face of extreme gratitude. Every seasoned traveller knows that even if the guy insults your mother, you can't show the slightest trace of anger or else you are doomed.
Juggling visas has been an art. My travel was more dictated by visa considerations than anything else. In this world clamouring for free trade, free movement of everything etc etc, can't they make legitimate business travel easier. I am not talking of free immigration - just straightforward normal business travel and abolish this dreaded four letter word to history.

One of the things I love about my sabbatical now is that I don't have to make a visa application at all !


le embrouille blogueur said...

We feel that pit in the stomach every time we have to stand in line to get it renewed etc. It is just like you said - "guilty until proven innocent". Well collected thoughts and observations.

adesh Sidhu said...

So true...being a Punjabi I have been to long queues outside Canadian embassy. It is tough, irritating and insulting.

kiwibloke said...

Look at the positive side of this process. The complexity in this Visa process discourages people to travel - less carbon emissions. Ha Ha! just joking. Incidentally I refused to apply for a visa to one of these countries (UK), which asked me how much I earn and worse still how much spend on my wife every month! Would they dare to ask this question to any of thier citizens? they would get roasted on privacy act.

PS: This story had a twist. I actually sent in a visa application with nothing filled in on what I spend on my wife and they actually gave me a 5 year multple entry visa! Morons

Ramesh said...

Blogueur - Yes isn't it. The feeling when waiting in the quueu is not nice at all

Adesh - they think all Punjabis want to emigrate to Canada. They're just nuts

kiwi - ha ha. Now Nitya should sue you for not spending anything on her !!

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

I was a keynote speaker at a conference in Budapest, and when i applied for a Hungarian visa I was given a visa for one day. Something flipped inside me, and I demanded to see the consul general. To his credit, the guy came down to see me, and I had the great satisfaction of roasting him for his indecency. Felt good....

Ramesh said...

Good that you gave them back. Although that's a dangerous tactic - they just tell you to %&@$ off. After all they care two hoots whether you come to their country or not - they would rather you didn't !

Athivas said...

LOL at the French Visa?? Rejected for a smile??? :) They must be all gone nuts to reject someone who smiles. :P

Ramesh said...

@athivas - There are all sorts of crazy rules. Once the US (I think) had a rule requiring you to state that you have not kidnapped a child outside of the US (I presume the implication is that it is alright to kidnap a child in the US !!)

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