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Visas And Your (Lack Of) Rights

Posted in Travel

A visa, by its literal definition is permission to enter or transit a country. It doesn’t give the holder any rights, and it can be revoked at any time without the issuing country having to give a reason (with no right of appeal), or to refund any visa costs, which are in effect admin fees.

In the past few decades, the ability to travel has been made possible with budget airlines, and the internet, where travelers can book last-minute and compare prices. Many people don’t require visas to enter another country, especially in the EU or if they hold a passport form the US, but since the rise in terrorism threats, the issuing of visas has been tightened. In the bygone days it was trendy to have a passport of stamps—visas and entry and exit stamps, but today most of this information is logged and recorded in a computer database.

Countries like Nepal allow you get a visa upon arrival (for some countries); most charge a fee, and others don’t charge, such as Thailand that offers visa exemptions for limited stays for nationals of certain countries. However, it’s best to apply and obtain a visa before arrival, because if you are denied at the point of entry, you must pay your own costs to leave.

There are also numerous types of visas; work, academic, or tourist visas among them, and it’s up to the individual to ensure they have applied for the correct one, and to check whether more than one is necessary. For example, you may have a student visa and then remain as a visitor afterwards; therefore you would need both visas.

People are under the impression a travel agent is responsible for ensuring you have the correct travel documents when you purchase a ticket. Their job is to sell the ticket, and nothing more. Some will remind you about the visa requirements, but as each individual may have differing circumstances, they cannot advise on the best visa to apply for, besides the fact rules change frequently. Travel agents cannot be blamed, because it’s the passenger’s responsibility for everything. One may give advice and when it comes to the time of actual travel, the regulations may have changed.

Insurance companies or airlines do not refund tickets that cannot be used because the traveler failed to have the correct paperwork, or if a visa was revoked. A fully flexible fare is incredibly expensive compared to the cheaper flights that most people are used to, and is usually the only way to get a refund. Having a visa stamp does not guarantee anything—at immigration they can put you back on the next flight home at your own cost, and they don’t have to tell you why.

Recently some news sites have claimed that a British Muslim family had their visa waiver revoked because they were Muslim. They have cried out racial discrimination, yet, there is never smoke without some red flags that may have appeared. Each country has the right to issue and revoke visas without having to explain why. You do not buy a visa—you apply for one and pay administrative fees. People assume because travel has become cheap and frequent, that they have rights. That is not the case, but in the case of missed flights, most airlines will offer an alternative flight, but they are not obliged to.

Many countries that do offer visa free entry still require proof of a return ticket, and a passport validity that exceeds six months of the planned departure date. People can, and have been denied entry if the criteria is not met.

Always check your visas before you buy a ticket, because regulations do change and can come into force immediately or at a specified date. Recently the US visa waiver scheme has changed its rules, and other countries may also adopt restrictions. People get visas denied and revoked all of the time, sometimes due to incorrectly filled out paperwork, and other times there are red flags, when there maybe cause for concern, for example if someone was denied a visa before or entry into another country.

Traveling on a visa never guarantees entry, but keep on the right side of the host country—leave on time, or extend the visa before the expiration because it could leave you with a permanent ban on returning. Liberty and the freedom to travel will continue, while visas allow countries to safeguard their borders. Visas must exist to ensure that the freedom to travel is safe for travelers and citizens. Those who are fortunate enough to have visa free travel should never take it for granted, because there are always some limits to freedom.

©The Boffin. 2015

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