The Economist, on its first issue of the year published an article titled “A strange sort of welcome”.
The subtitle read: “Governments are deterring business travellers and tourists with cumbersome visa requirements that do little to make their countries more secure.” The crux of the piece is: “Citizens of America, Britain and some other rich countries can travel to most places without a visa. Chinese and Indian travellers are far more likely to have to apply for them. And citizens of a few benighted places, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, have to submit to the cost and bureaucracy—and often the humiliation—of the visa-application process to get to most places.” The Economist went on: “In many cases, instead of simplifying the visa process, governments have offloaded it to private contractors. Travellers may now have to pay a service fee to the company handling their application on top of the standard visa fee.”
To me, the one and most important word in this article is the humiliation people are made to endure for the visa process. As a Turkish woman who has gone around the world three times and then having settled in Italy, I've been exposed to this humiliation more than enough, and I could go on with stories upon stories...
I'll start with a story that is smack on topic. I was pregnant and wanted to come here to Italy to be with the father of my child. I don't know about VFS, the contractor for the Italian Embassy in Turkey was AIDATA. I provided all the papers safe for the hotel reservation. I had an invitation from my husband to be. An Italian. "Oh," they said, "But he has to provide his bank statements too in order for the invitation to be valid." I called him up and said "They want your bank statements too as if it's not enough that I provided them with so much money and property in my account." Well, he went to his bank. This being Italy, the bank said it needed a week to provide for the statements. Tövbe tövbe... I needed to apply and get the visa, I couldn't wait for that long. So I went to AIDATA again, telling the woman. She said "Then you need a hotel reservation." As I said, this was a reservation that you could make and cancel. So it was just a hoop for you to jump. Albeit an easy hoop, but a hoop after all. A hoop serving NOTHING! Nothing apart from hassling me that is.
Anyway... I refused to jump that hoop. I had all the rest of the stuff, I had a couple of Schengen visas previously, I had at the time had done two round-the-world tours. I said "If you refuse me a visa, let it be so! Who cares!" I actually used the f word at that point, but let's be decent here.
Anyway... The woman said "Then I cannot get your papers for the application." I said "What?!" Get what I give you and apply on my name. She said that my application could be refused. At that point, not wanting to risk my chances of being together with the man I loved, the father of my child, I went to the Italian Embassy and tried to get in touch with someone responsible there so that I could get a proper answer. If the hotel reservation was indispensable I would be doing that. Nopes. They didn't even look at my face at the embassy and turned me back to the contractor. When I told the same woman that I wanted to apply she made me sign a paper waiving all responsibility if I was refused. This is being humiliated. Being told such things, being made to go around and around in a labyrinth like a rat. Being made to jump hoops just to satisfy the caprices of some people.
When you have time, just drop by your embassy in some foreign country, preferably in the summer when travelling peaks, and see the amount of paperwork authorities ask and the problems people have. What other governments do to me, my government does to others. “Oh, you need to wait at least a month. The papers need to go to Turkey, be processed there and come back for you to be able to visit our land.” This is being humiliated, having the need to prove your right to exist in a certain geographical area. Making some pieces of paper determine your geographic legitimacy.
Also see what your own government does to its own citizens. A Turkish man in Italy wanted to go to Turkey to his sister's wedding. The woman behind the screen asked for 400 Euros for something 70 Euros for something else. I was watching and thinking “What the hell! He just wants to go back to his home.” And she wasn't sure he could make it on time, it was a busy period. This is being humiliated. Having to spend time and money and go through so much paperwork just to be with your family, to be able to go to your sister's wedding! Even the idea of it is outrageous.
It's not only about visas, it is also about money as the article suggests. When I had to pay that fee to AIDATA to get a Schengen visa, I was thinking to myself... We pay for the visa itself, plus now we have to pay a service fee just because the embassies do not want to do the job themselves. If they want somebody else to do their work, they pay themselves, not make us pay extra.
It's not only about visas, it is also about power. People abuse power all the time. “Bribes offered. Bribes refused,” someone was boasting. What about bribes accepted? People are people everywhere.
What about the airline employee at the check-in desk who plays the immigration officer? I was on my way to the Domican Republic at the Costa Rica Airport. Now... The DR doesn't ask for a visa from us, they issue one on arrival for a fee. At the check-in, the woman asked for my outbound flight from DR. As you know, I normally do not travel booking anything in advance. But in this case, I had done so. And I happened to have the confirmation e-mail on my laptop. So I took it out and showed it to the woman. The woman said I needed to have it printed and give it to her. I said I didn't have a printer, she could get it if she wanted one. "No," she said. She wouldn't do it. "Any Internet Cafes around?" No to that too. "So what am I supposed to do?"
She just didn't care.
Her job is to check me into the flight I paid for. But she is hassling me. Of course, she is right. I've come from Turkey through Egypt,Yemen, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Macau, China, USA, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica... with all these stamps on my passport, and now I am going to the DR and I'm going to settle there illegally! Yes yes, I was about to sneak in to the DR and live a secluded life there but you caught me. Yeah, I understand. I have to have my outbound flight printed. They need to make sure. Otherwise, her airline company may be liable for taking an "illegal alien" to DR.
I thought of arguing with the woman, but I believe I can tell when there is no point in arguing with someone. I thought of asking for a supervisor but that could take time and I could be missing my flight in case the supervisor turned out to be as aggressive as the employee in front of me. I decided getting the confirmation printed and giving them what they wanted would be the easier option for me. I ran around. Looking for a printer somewhere. I was lucky to run into a helpful man who opened up his office to me. However, my laptop could not connect to his printer. I wanted to send the e-mail to his computer, the Internet was so slow. Time was running out. The check-in was about to close. I had bought all the tickets for the rest of the trip. I miss this flight... Domino effect! All the money I paid, the money I saved hardly gone for this. Plus, I would need to make new arrangements and spend more money and time. I was so stressed and upset. In the end, I managed. But there
was really five minutes to the gate closing. I made it to the plane running and sweating.
This is being humiliated. Being made to run around like a rat in a maze just because you want to go somewhere. Being made to jump hoops just to satisfy the caprices of some people.
Three Cheers to Visas and Passports!