Visas - What Are They Good For?!
June 15, 2006 7:50 AM   Subscribe

What's the point of a visa?

My passport's nationality requires me to get a visa for almost everywhere in the world - and more often than not, it's quite a pain. Financial documents, health documents, character checks, who knows what. And it all seems so arbitary.

I understand that visas came about after WWII, but why do we still need them? What purpose do they serve? Do they really halt "undesirable" and/or "dangerous" people in - or do they just make things difficult for legitimate people to enter? And why do they need to know so much about us anyway?

Also: are there any efforts to abolish visas or make the visa process easier? I know of Get VISAble (a campaign to make visas easier for EU students) but I was wondering if there's anything else like it.
posted by divabat to Law & Government (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Nations want: records of who is crossing their borders; a clear legal commandment to visitors telling them how long they may stay and the terms under which they may remain (e.g. 90 day vacation only, student only, etc.); and the opportunity to close their borders to people they don't want to enter.
posted by profwhat at 8:06 AM on June 15, 2006


But why do they set the limits (90 days, 30 days, whatever) on visitor stays? And what good would it do to show them all sorts of extraneous info? (I was just reading some posts about how people applying for spousal visas had to come up with itemized phone bills and travel photos, of all things)

basically, why all the red tape? Do they actually contact everyone - the bank, the schools, etc - to verify this information? What do they do with such info?
posted by divabat at 8:18 AM on June 15, 2006


When you look at what a big stink illegal immigration is in spite of all the border controls, imagine how it would be if borders were open.
posted by GuyZero at 8:21 AM on June 15, 2006


Visas are also used by other countries' border officials to determine each visitor's liklihood of staying/not leaving.

For example, if you are Moldovan and your flight is delayed in Vienna for 26 hours, you have to enter Austria.

If your passport only has GROUND TRANSPORT entries into Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, etc, they will likely recommend you catch a connecting flight back east. If your passport contains many US F1 visas or old Schengenzone visas, you are more likely a trustworthy visitor and will return to the airport the next day.
posted by vkxmai at 8:21 AM on June 15, 2006


"imagine how it would be if borders were open"

100m Eastern Europeans would move to Germany, France, Portugal, Italy and Spain overnight.
posted by vkxmai at 8:22 AM on June 15, 2006


why all the red tape?

To combat illegal immigration. Lots of people would gladly pay hefty sums of money to immigrate as someone's "spouse". Visitors from some countries have high rates of breaking their visa conditions in an attempt to immigrate illegally, so the government makes them jump through hoops.

I have an aunt in Hungary who recently came to Canada to visit her sister who is dying of lung cancer. She had to produce proof of assets in Hungary, a signed letter from her bank manager and all sorts of stuff to prove she wouldn't try to stay. The fact that she hadn't tried to immigrate after her three sisters have been living here for 50 years was not enough proof I guess. While my aunt is trustworthy, there are some ethnic groups in Hungary that aren't. So the Canadian government makes 'em all go through it. Thems the breaks.
posted by GuyZero at 8:28 AM on June 15, 2006


In a lot of third world countries (I'm thinking Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) it's probably just a good way to squeeze $30 or so out of tourists.
posted by borkingchikapa at 8:29 AM on June 15, 2006


My favourite part is the way you have to call a premium-rate phone number to get visa info or make an appointment. I have no idea who it is that thinks that is a good way for a country to represent itself abroad.

why all the red tape? Do they actually contact everyone - the bank, the schools, etc - to verify this information? What do they do with such info?

They ask for documentation because they don't trust the people going through the process. They are willing to bet that people who can actually support themselves will be willing to jump through the necessary hoops, and in general they are probably right. Having said that, my wife and I would have had an expensive honeymoon in Italy if their visa people had not been assholes to us. Instead we stayed in the UK. There was also a recent report of an orchestra (or maybe it was a ballet company) refusing to travel to the States to perform because the visa requirements were excessively onerous. If there are enough stories like this maybe there will be some changes.
posted by teleskiving at 8:33 AM on June 15, 2006


In China, for a Chinese person to get a tourist or student visa to the US, they have to show a ton of evidence supporting the notion that they will eventually return to China. This includes family ties, ownership of a house and/or car, a massive amount of money in one's account (although I always figured you could just take it out after you get your visa).

They also have to schedule interviews and such with consular officials. It's a really huge pain, but that's what happens when so many people want to get in to a country.

In turn, Americans have more limited and more expensive Chinese visa options. A lot of the visa limitations are based on reciprocity.
posted by taschenrechner at 8:45 AM on June 15, 2006


In a lot of third world countries (I'm thinking Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) it's probably just a good way to squeeze $30 or so out of tourists.

Quite often these fees are reciprocal. I would guess that the US/UK/Australia/where ever charge a similar fee (if not higher) to Cambodians/Vietnamese/Lao(tian?)s to enter.

Also: are there any efforts to abolish visas or make the visa process easier

Due to the "war on terror" it could be argued that the opposite is the case. Restrictions/requirements seem to be increasing rapidly.
posted by davehat at 8:46 AM on June 15, 2006


If visa's are to stop illegal immigration, why are they required when travelling from a immigration magnet countries, to other countries that may have negative or neutral immigration flow (Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Bharain)?
posted by forforf at 8:56 AM on June 15, 2006


What purpose do they serve?

Checking people before they enter your country.

Do they really halt "undesirable" and/or "dangerous" people in

Sure. But [Country]'s definition of "undesirable" isn't necessarily "murderous thug," it might just be "too likely to stay indefinitely."

or do they just make things difficult for legitimate people to enter?

They do that too.

And why do they need to know so much about us anyway?

Mostly to establish that you have a strong reason to go back to Malaysia and not just hang around in [Country].

are there any efforts to abolish visas

Sure. Lots of countries have reciprocal visa-waivers with each other, and just enter with a passport. If Malaysia doesn't have these relationships, it's probably because too many Malaysians have overstayed their visits.

or make the visa process easier?

Yeah, but not in the ways you mean. Electronic processing speeds things up. In the US, splitting INS into CIS and ICE sped up the visa side a little bit, because now the visa-granting people aren't called up to do enforcement stuff for months at a time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:56 AM on June 15, 2006


But why do they set the limits (90 days, 30 days, whatever) on visitor stays?

Because if you're staying indefinitely, you're an immigrant, not a visitor.

And what good would it do to show them all sorts of extraneous info? (I was just reading some posts about how people applying for spousal visas had to come up with itemized phone bills and travel photos, of all things)

That sounds more like fiancee visas (K1), if they were talking about the US.

That information isn't extraneous. They want simple, easy to provide evidence that you and your fiancee actually know each other. If you can't provide a photo of you together, they doubt that you've even met. The other stuff falls under the category of "Give us some reason to think you two actually have a relationship."

Do they actually contact everyone - the bank, the schools, etc - to verify this information?

I rather doubt it. But if it later turns out to have been false, there'll be hell to pay.

What do they do with such info?

Use it to figure out if you qualify for thus-and-such an immigration status.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:02 AM on June 15, 2006


100m Eastern Europeans would move to Germany, France, Portugal, Italy and Spain overnight.

It's not that clean cut. Open borders wouldn't just result in poor people rushing to rich areas. For a start, many wouldn't be able to afford to live there. Also, many people in affluent areas would choose to migrate to other areas they weren't allowed to before. I'd personally quite like to move to rural Canada or Australia for example, but I currently am not allowed to do so.

Open borders, like an open free market, would certainly improve the world.
posted by wackybrit at 9:20 AM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Due to the "war on terror" it could be argued that the opposite is the case. Restrictions/requirements seem to be increasing rapidly. - davehat

Example: In the past (including right now) Canadians and Americans going back and forth only needed photo ID (a drivers licence was good enough). Starting Jan. 1st, anyone entering the US from Canada will need a passport.
posted by raedyn at 9:55 AM on June 15, 2006


100m Eastern Europeans would move to Germany, France, Portugal, Italy and Spain overnight.

Except that the borders opened for some 70 million central/eastern europeans two years ago and only about 1.5mln have moved...
posted by jedrek at 10:08 AM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


wackybrit, I believe the bit about the 100 million Eastern Europeans was sacrasm. It was the bugle call of the bigots and isolationists in the run up to the expansion of the EU. And we all know now how prescient it was. Not.
posted by veedubya at 10:31 AM on June 15, 2006


Quite often these fees are reciprocal. I would guess that the US/UK/Australia/where ever charge a similar fee (if not higher) to Cambodians/Vietnamese/Lao(tian?)s to enter.

Indeed. I can only speak for the UK, but there is an admin fee for short-stay visas. You will also be charged for the admin of processing work permit applications and other applications for limited leave to remain (eg as a student, as a relative, as a partner). It is for cost recovery reasons in the UK - the Government finds it difficult to justify the taxpayer funding it.

There is lots of excellent information in the answers above, but to give you some UK-specific examples to illustrate some of the general points:

- we have a visa waiver system for many countries

- the requirements are not at all arbitrary if you think of what immigration means for the state, rather than the individual. For us an individuals, yes, it's a massive faff. For the state, though, immigration has various purposes - linked to the economy, filling skills gaps in the jobs market, keeping the population from falling (for Western Europe, at any rate) - and the information you provide is all ultimately linked to Government policies on that, at least on longer-stay visas for the purposes of employment or joining relatives. You need to prove you are who you say you are, for instance, or that you're studying at a genuine academic institution, or that you've got the skills the state needs for gaps in the job market. You need to prove that you won't be a burden on public funds - ie that you can support yourself without recourse to the state - so that's why they ask for financial documents.
posted by greycap at 10:53 AM on June 15, 2006


ROU_Xenophobe: I get that staying indefinitely != "visitor", I'm just wondering why they chose "90 days" as the limits (as opposed to some arbitary number).

I have a Bangladesh passport, but I'm resident in Malaysia (born here, bred here, lived here my whole life...) - which helps nothing. Right now I'm applying for a student visa, and if I had a Malaysian passport everything is done in a week; by virtue of my passport, I'm on a different assessment level and everything takes months instead. Argh!

taschenrechner: It's the same for everyone that wants a US visa, not just Chinese people. My family had to do the same thing (my dad applied for all of us). Japan was pretty quick, but you can't apply early; Germany was also a bit particular on dates but was very flexible. Switzerland too.

And yet it looks like if I want to go to Europe later this year, I can't apply for the visa in my student country - I have to come back here to do it. Bah!
posted by divabat at 4:23 PM on June 15, 2006


I'm just wondering why they chose "90 days" as the limits (as opposed to some arbitary number).

That's it exactly -- it's some arbitrary number that either made sense to a bureaucrat, or was an unholy compromise in Congress.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:47 PM on June 15, 2006


it's probably just a good way to squeeze $30 or so out of tourists

Ding ding ding! (Some of my colleagues have also been asked for bribes based on the financial info they have had to provide for visas to various places... Haiti was one of the culprits...)

Reciprocity comes into it in some cases ($100 for US tourists to visit Brazil or Chile, for example), but the burden is still on visitors coming the other way. (For, at least, Brazilians visiting) the US, the process can cost around $140-200 US and involve interviews/waiting/filing that takes a full day...

have to call a premium-rate phone number to get visa info or make an appointment

Guh. This spring I had to call a specific embassy to even find out how much a tourist visa would cost, which is nowhere on their web site, and neither is any of the other information about what to send where and how much and etc. I consider myself fortunate they gave me one so I don't have to repeat the process, but dread the fact that I'm likely to do it again in the future...
posted by whatzit at 12:10 PM on June 17, 2006


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