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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Reflections: Double standards in visa applications

Visa, it comes from Modern Latin Charta Visa, ‘verified paper’. Literally it means“paper that has been seen”. For those of us who didn’t take Latin in school, a visa is basically an official mark made on a passport that allows you to enter a country where you’re not a citizen. But, it depends, on where you’re from and where you’re going.

For example, if you are an American from America, or you’re British from Great Britain and you’d like to visit Kenya, you’re strongly encouraged to obtain a visa online before you come to Kenya. If, however, you have poor Internet connection, or your computer is broken, or if you just don’t feel like it, you can pack a bag, get on a plane, and fly to Kenya, where you’ll get a visa on arrival at the airport. Make sure though that you have the 50 dollars needed to pay for the visa, and that your passport has at least two blank pages and is valid for the next six months. This is the visa that ‘allows you to enter…’

Then there’s the other visa, the one for a Kenyan who’d like to visit America. First of all, you don’t get this visa upon arrival at an American airport. It is very probable in fact that you’ll not get this visa at all. But, if you’d like to try, here’s what you need to do.

You fill out an online visa application form, specified format photo included, and submit it electronically. The visa application fee is $40 (Sh4,000), $10 (Sh1,000) cheaper than Kenya’s, so that’s something. After you submit the application you then get in touch with the embassy to schedule an appointment for an interview. They’ll let you know when you can come; don’t call them, they’ll call you.

And when they do call, don’t just rock up for that interview with your hands in your pockets, you’ll need those hands free for all the paperwork you’re required to show up with. We’re talking passport, printed copy of the online application, and an assortment of other documents, some notarised, all proving you are who you say you are, you can afford the trip, and you intend to return to Kenya. This paperwork will be perused, put to one side, and then you’ll be asked some questions. How you answer will determine if you’re qualified to receive a visa. If you’re lucky, you get the visa, but, the saga continues for, as it turns out, a visa to the US only allows you to travel to a port of entry, it is a request for permission to enter, it is not a guarantee that you will.

It doesn’t get any easier if you’d like to go and row a boat on the River Thames. The main difference with the UK is they don’t deal with you directly, it’s a commercial company instead that interviews you, fingerprints you, and asks you for documents supporting your intentions.

Now, I have no interest in the debate on why or whether Kenya is desperate for tourists’ dollars. My concern is the automatic assumptions that lead to: a Kenyan has to prove that he’s a tourist, but Americans and Brits do not have to prove that they’re not economic migrants or criminals. What does this say?

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