I don’t mean Visa as a payment method. What I mean is a little sticky piece of paper pasted on your passport when you travel abroad and your country of destination requires it. It does have a supreme power that can change a man’s life forever, especially for those who come from the “developing world” and need to present in the “developed world”. Sadly, it usually changes lives for worse.
I do have examples. One friend of mine was a genius in physics, and was awarded a scholarship to study in an American university when he was the best student of the best high school in natural sciences in Vietnam. Everything was so ready for his big scientific career, and he was so eager for his life journey to the land of dreams. Yet the US Embassy denied his visa. No specific reason was given. That struck my friend so badly that afterwards, he gave up his physics enthusiasm. So now, instead of having another Newton or Einstein, we have one more cunning land broker.
That sort of thing happens so often across the globe. For the US only, of around ten million visa made each year, one-tenth is refused. Surely among one million refused applicants, there could be one who is “harmful” to the US. Yet more often than not, many of them are just students who want to get a better education, the basic right that they cannot have in their home countries.
Worse, the embassy reserves the rights not to reveal the reason why one application is refused rather than another. So we have some people here in Vietnam applying for the US visas for three or fourth times, all refused. It just goes like this: the visa interviewer will ask you around three simple questions: what do you do in Vietnam, who do you live with, and what will you do in the US. Then, if the interviewer is happy, he will nod his head and make your day. Otherwise, he will press a call button to the security and you will be immediately kicked out of the embassy.
It will not only cost you time, but a lot of money as well. The cheapest visa fee for the US is US$160, and £80 for the UK. For students, the UK visa price is £298. Doesn’t sound a lot of money? Well, £298 (that is around US$480), 1.18 billion of people can live for 8 months.
More ironically, the developed world seems to make a great profit out of their visa system. Just take a simple math with the US above. Per year, they have US$1.6bn in revenue, mostly from the developing countries (since developed countries usually have their visa exempted for one another’s citizens).
I understand that removing visa is not realistic in the foreseeable future. In fact, it is necessary to some extent, as countries do need to protect their own national security and interests. Nevertheless, it should be done on a case-by-case basis, rather than stereotyping people into some category that they don’t necessarily fit in. Now, if a student is from Europe and coming to the UK for his Master, for example, he will just come without any visa process. Yet his classmates from China or Russia will need at least three weeks to know whether he/she gets a visa or not. That is not only unfair, but also erodes the very foundations of liberal values (which the developed world is bound with): All men created equal.
In addition, if a visa check is unavoidable, please make it less troublesome and more transparent for applicants. It is not nice to lose your money for a refused visa again and again without knowing the reasons behind. Anyway, applicants pay for the service, just like customers, so they deserve to be served with more dignity.