5.5.06

Visas

Visas are absurd.

The premise, I suppose, is that visas are supposed to control entry into a country. They fail pretty badly at that. I have a 10 year multi-entry visa for India. Here's the details of how I got it:

I found a company who handles getting visas for people. There are dozens of these on the Internet. I picked one that our corporate travel agent works with.

I downloaded their forms and filled them out.

I went to Kinkos and got two passport photos taken.

I (gulp) sent all the forms, my credit card info, the pictures and my current US passport to the visa company.

Presumably, they took the whole smash to the Indian consulate in NYC, and stood in line on my behalf.

A week or so later, I get a Fedex envelope with my passport and my visa in it.

So if the whole point is to control and regulate entry into the country in question, there are a few problems:

1) Am I who I say I am? My passport was issued 9 years ago. The years have not exactly been kind. 9 years ago I was a skinny kid with long curly sun-bleached hair. Now, I'm a middle-aged software guy, with short cropped thinning hair and 50 extra pounds of "shaped like my chair". You'd be hard pressed to look at my passport photo, then pick me out of a line up. But that's really a commentary on passports in general -- my passport basically proves that I'm a white guy who looks kind of like the white guy in the picture. But the guy in the picture was clearly a US citizen, cause he got a passport.

2) Am I who I say I am? - II: The way you get visas, or at least the way I got mine, further confounds the "am I who I say I am" problem. None of the forms have any certification or validation more sophisticated than a signature. So, the fact that all my forms are filled out and signed means basically that I'm some white guy who looks kind of like the white guy in the picture, and who can scratch a totally illegible scribble that looks like the totally illegible scribble in the passport.

3) Can I come into your country now? Once the forms are done, remember this whole package goes to some company who hires some one to stand in line at the consulate where they secure my visa, all official like. This proves, well, that I've got $150, which is about what that service cost. There were some invite letters required, and these had to be on company letterhead. So we've also proven that I have access to a color laser printer. So. I'm a white guy. Who looks like the white guy who got this passport 9 years ago. And I can scribble. And I had $150. And I might have access to a $300 laser printer. Stellar credentials. May I please come into your country?

Apparently, the answer is usually yes.

Glad we got that straightened out.

So the absurd chain of custody in this alleged "national security document" aside, let's talk about why visas even exist.

Here's what I've been able to figure out:

- Visas are largely reciprocal. If we (the USA) make people coming from Country-A get visas to enter the country, then Country-A makes US citizens get visas to enter their country.

- Unless there's a lot of US tourism going on in Country-A. In which case you can just show up, say you're going to spend lots of US dollars, and they'll let you in. So you can lie about the purpose of your trip, and say that you always vacation in business suits because it makes you feel sexy, and that you're really looking forward to sampling the wireless Ethernet in all the hot beach resorts, which is why you have your laptop with you. And the training manuals are to hand out to all the wee street urchins -- you know, candy rots their teeth.

- But that's unwise, because, well, prison.

- Not intending to start a riot, but just commenting on empirical evidence, the chances are, the more poor people or Muslims there are in Country-A, the tighter the restrictions are for entry from Country-A into the US. Which they can't take sitting down. So, a high quotient of poor people or Muslims correlates directly to more paperwork you'll have to fill out to get a visa to travel to Country-A on business.

- So the whole reason you have to get a visa is to allow Country-A to save face because we embarassed them and made their people get visas. Because we as a nation fear poor people and the statistically peaceful followers of Muhammad (PBUH).

- Once you get a visa, you can come and go as you please. Unless the visa expires. In which case you can get a new one, but you have to be in the USA to do that. And you have to go to the consulate's office. In NYC. Unless you have $150. And a laser printer. And you know somebody who looks like the picture in a valid passport. And you can scribble. Then you can get someone to get your visa for you. Then you're free to come and go as you please again.

- I suppose, if you were clever, you could even get around the whole "being in the USA" thing. But it's very unlikely that you could or would do that. You'd have to have access to, well, Fedex.

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