Tourist visa in the globalization age
On the occasion of my receipt of the title "Dean of Travellers" and the trophy of the "Iraqi Immigrant" from Mr. Hussein Al-Tahan, Mayor of Baghdad, in a solemn ceremony organized by the "League Iraqi Travellers and Immigrants", my memory took me to the distant past that I had lived through my travels. It began by obtaining the passport, arrangements for travel and visas.
I dedicate this article to those who have been successful and unsuccessful in getting a tourist visa. There is probably a story for any visa and the number of visas issued may reach millions, or even billions, according to the latest reports from international television stations. I say that there is a history for each visa application, that may have been granted or rejected. Their number reaches more than half the world's inhabitants who travel or wish to travel for tourism or other reasons.
What is the visa? Why do people need it? What is it for? What are the visa regulations, directives, local policies, and policies in each state and between states regarding the granting of visas? What are the recurring issues in visa application forms? What are the contents of the files to be prepared for the visa?
I can tell a hundred stories for the hundred visas I obtained during my sixty years of travel to half the world. However, as yet, I never set foot on the American continent. In a section reserved for visa stories, I invite anyone who has a story about getting a visa to contribute. Thus, Islamic Tourism magazine ITM and its ITW website, can have the honour to be included in the Guinness Book of Records.
Let me mention a few types of visas and their human, political, economic and tourist dimensions.
The meaning of the visa
The term visa became widespread on a global scale. It is used in virtually all languages. They talk about "entry visas", "exit visa", "return visas" and "transit visas".
When one decides to travel abroad and has the necessary financial means, he must have a passport. It is a simple procedure in some countries, to mail a birth certificate, photographs and provide an address, and after about a week you receive the passport in the mail. But for many thousands, if not millions of people, getting a passport is a dream or even a miracle.
It is the same for the cost, which can vary from the cost of stamps to hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some offices, intermediaries and mercenaries have associated officials responsible for the granting of passports, including departments of the interior, tax offices and even military service. When the passport is issued for the lucky, a proviso sometimes applies: "Valid for all countries except those prohibited." These can be named in a publicised list. The countries prohibited could be a neighbouring country, whose people share the same language and religion, and are perceived to threaten the security of the state, which has imposed the prohibition. The ban could be due to ideological, political or personal differences between heads of state. It could be motivated by a passing personal event, leading to a diplomatic crisis and the closure of borders with respect to the country concerned.
Types of passports
The types of passports are many and varied: diplomatic, passports on which children are included, refugee passports, passports for a single trip, passports for emigrants and passports for transfer or return to the country of origin.
Applications for visas
When one wants to travel to one or more countries that require a visa, one must appear in person at the embassy of the country, perhaps hundreds of miles from his place of residence. He has to join a queue, regardless of the climate, and may need to come a day earlier. If he is lucky to get the form on the same day, there remains the difficult task of filling it in. Forms contain difficult and ambiguous questions and some people are illiterate. The applicant then has to present the form, with the required fee, with no guarantee of obtaining the visa. The form with the passport then follows a procedure. Additional documents, such as vaccination certificates, financial statements, the return ticket, photocopies of invitations, proof of acceptance by a university in the country granting the visa etc may be required. Visa fees vary from one country to another depending on the type of visa and its duration.
The end of the visa procedure for the lucky ones can be completed in an hour or a day later. For others it may take weeks and months before the visa is stamped in the passport. It may also take months to notify unsuccessful applicants whose hopes, and visa fees, evaporate.
Types of visas
There are tourist visas, business visas, visas for participation in congresses, official invitation visas, work visas, student visas, single and multiple entry visas, VIP visas, family reunion visas etc
States' laws and directives for travel
Some countries offer their people the freedom to travel to any country at any time. There is nothing impeding their trip. Their citizens can visit most countries without visas.
In some countries, gradual travel restrictions are imposed culminating in banning all travel abroad. In many countries, laws and guidelines related to travel abroad depend on the changing political climate. We thus get paradoxes when a department invites a person to attend a conference or to discuss business, and another department or the embassy do not grant him a visa!
Other countries, do not give a visa to neighbouring countries or to countries who do not share their language or beliefs, or because of political differences that only a few insiders are familiar with. Some offices, companies and intermediaries specializing in obtaining visas have been formed. There must be coordination among these organizations. Some embassy staff impede the granting of visas, to compel the applicants to resort to these agencies for an agreed fee. Many such organisations operate openly.
This prompts us to ask what about globalization? Where is the equality in respecting fundamental human rights? Where is the freedom of movement of individuals in countries which impede the principles of globalization drawn up by UN agencies? Is globalization only for the movement of capital, goods and economic interests - not human beings, as stipulated by free trade agreements? Is it possible for countries that impose barriers on the travel of their citizens to enjoy economic development and prosperity for their people? Will such measures achieve human globalization let alone economic globalization?
We call upon the UN and its agencies, such as the World Tourism Organization and the parliaments and governments of the world to enact a tourist visa law which must be a right of all human beings and will not be impeded by any government. It must be acknowledged that the pleasure to enjoy rest and relaxation offered by tourism has a positive impact on individuals and countries around the world. This law shall guarantee annual leave of at least two weeks for every individual. Visa applications can easily be verified with new information technology. Information about almost everyone is now available on the internet, with or without his/her consent. This information can easily be transferred to any travel agency or border post and bring an end to the activities of terrorists, outlaws, forgers and fraudsters. Let us make tourism a basic human right along with the right to food, clothing, housing, health and education.
In addition, countries that God has endowed with historical heritage and beautiful natural landscapes, must open their borders so that everyone can share their riches, if only for a short time and become familiar with their traditions and attractions, for the progress of humanity in the context of family and Islamic values.
Is it conceivable that countries attempting space tourism would be unable to provide the simplest kind of tourism within their own country or to neighbouring countries? It is not difficult for God to give the leaders of the world the will and love of their people, so that caravans of tourists cross borders by land, sea and air. Thus will be realized the principles of dialogue and understanding among civilizations according to their wide definition, as mentioned in the Holy Koran:
"O Mankind! We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah, is the most pious." (Al-Hujurat/13).
This verse is intended for all people. They were created, regardless of their race, religion or colour, from a single man and woman and they are equal at birth. The Koran insists on the unity of mankind, and distinction only comes from good work.
My next article will be on: Religious Tourism which plays a pivital role for inter-Islamic States's tourism and it aims at attracting Muslims all over the world.
May God guide us to success.