Poor travelers not welcome: Social-Economic Discrimination in Western Non-immigrant visa Policy

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The world has become a global village– with globalization defining the unstoppable interconnectedness among nations. This process is evident from the melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, knowledge, and technology in all corners of the globe.  Globalization is also characterized by the expansive movement of people across nations due to push and pull-factors that include- job opportunities, education, tourism, refuge among others. Is the much touted freedom of movement a reality or fad? Do all global citizens have equal rights to chase opportunities or seek greener pastures?

One doesn’t need to look further than the embassies of foreign nations in developing countries that are scenes of eagerly waiting visa applicants.“What is the purpose of your travel Sir/Madam? Can you present your visa application materials?”— asks the Consular officer. This is when the anxious applicant is expected to submit a heap of documents proving that they have strong social-economic ties to their home nations before a travel visa can be issued.  Required evidence includes bank statements, land titles, marriage certificate, employment confirmation letter, and proof of property/asset ownership among other documents. The United Kingdom was recently proposing that travelers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ghana deposit £3,000 cash bond for a six month visa prior to arrival—an amount that would be forfeited if they overstayed their visit.

Every prospective traveler from a developing country to the West particularly the United States and U.K is treated as “an intending immigrant until they prove otherwise.”  These nations certainly have the right to protect their boarders against high risk travelers whose intention might be to flee their homelands in search of greener pastures. However, it’s imperative that we don’t overlook the discriminatory effect of stipulations that at the core favor privilege and power. It’s inevitable for one to notice the red flags of class and gender bias towards would be travelers in the targeted nations.

Socioeconomic status is a measure of one’s position in the community characterized by variables such as – ones level of education, occupation, net worth, income and place of residence. The criterion for making a compelling case of strong social and economic ties to one’s country of origin to obtain a travel visa significantly affects individuals from humbler means and women who live in patriarchal societies. Likewise, younger travelers such as students who are often not established members of society find themselves on the wrong side of this policy— prohibiting them to pursue education opportunities and experiences to climb the ladder of progress.

Indeed the Orwellian commandment still holds true that ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ A citizen of a western nation only needs a plane ticket to have unlimited access to the world while a citizen from a developing country requires a litany of documents to enjoy similar benefits. The world is therefore not equally accessible for all as social-economic discrimination continues to prevail. As a result, the doors of globalization and opportunity remain closed for many in the developing world.

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