I found three articles yesterday on three different websites related to the requirement for visitors to The New Amerika to obtain a tourist visa. Each of the articles looked at the issue from a different angle.
The first article focuses on an issue that the Czechs love to moan about. Despite being in NATO and the European Union, the Czech Republic has not been granted admission into The Amerika’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP). What this means for Czechs is that to visit The Amerika, they have to subject themselves to a humiliating, costly and uncertain visa application process.
1. Fill in the DS 156 form. Fax it to the US Embassy using a special number. Calls cost CZK 42 (about $2) per minute.
2. The next day, you can call another special number (also billed at CZK 42 per minute) to make an interview appointment. The waiting time for an interview in Prague, according to this webpage, is currently 21 days.
3. Prior to your interview, you pay your fees by bank transfer. That is CZK 2200 (about $100) for the application + CZK 185 for the courier service.
4. You show up for your interview and subject yourself to the whim of your interviewer. They will tell you right then and there whether you are getting a visa (90% of Czech applicants) or not. If you are denied a visa, they will not tell you why.
If you are granted the visa, the embassy keeps your passport for a few days and then returns it to you, with the visa, via the courier service that you have already paid for. If you have not been granted the visa, you get to take your passport home with you, and then you can call the courier service directly to arrange for your prepaid courier charge to be refunded.
There seems to be, at least sometimes, no rhyme or reason to the visa decisions. I know of well-to-do professionals who wanted to go on a short holiday to The Amerika, leaving their two children and their business behind – and one of them was denied a visa.
So a lot of Czechs are not even trying to go to The Amerika, and the first article explains why wealthy Czech travellers are, understandably, choosing to spend their money elsewhere.
An example is Vratislav Hromadko, a wealthy Czech entrepreneur who comes from a virulently anti-Communist family. Hromadko is a rich man and often spends up to CZK 400,000 (over USD 18,000) on his holidays. But he regularly chooses to go scuba diving in Cuba rather than in Florida.
“It’s the same waters, but Cuba gives me less trouble even though it’s a country ruled by a communist police regime.”
Hromadko simply refuses to subject himself to the visa interview.
“It offends me. It is degrading.”
The second article talks about foreign visitors in general, and not only the visa process, but also the rudeness of immigration officials upon arrival in the country.
“In a survey conducted by the travel industry lobby group the Discover America Partnership late last year, the United States scored more than twice as badly as the next region, the Middle East, in terms of travel friendliness.
“Two-thirds of respondents worried they could be held back at airports because of a mistake in form filling or a misstatement to immigration officials. Half said officials were rude and that they feared them more than the threat of terrorism or crime.”
I myself have noticed immigration officials progressively getting ruder and asking more blatantly intrusive questions even of US citizens. I used to be greeted at LAX just with a friendly smile and a sincere sounding, “Welcome home!” But now every time I return to The New Amerika, I am subject to interrogation because I am clearly an unpatriotic misfit and how dare I choose to live outside the borders of the Land of the Free.
Travel Industry Association of America figures show that the number of foreign visitors to The New Amerika (not including our North American neighbours) is down 17% from before September 11, 2001. The US dollar is weak against European currencies, meaning that the whole country is like an after-Christmas sale, yet visitor numbers from Western Europe went down 3% from 2005 to 2006. All of this indicates a lot of money that is not going into the US economy – which is the bottom line.
The third article provides an interesting counterpoint. It criticises the entire Visa Waiver Program for allowing visitors coming into The New Amerika “to sidestep in-place security procedures that screen for terrorists.” The article discusses the problems of, amongst other things, “homegrown jihadists” in Great Britain, the large population of Muslims throughout the European VWP countries, and the liberal naturalisation laws in countries like Denmark, which allow immigrants to obtain citizenship in as little as three years.
I totally see the point of that article, but I cannot agree that doing away with the Visa Waiver Program is the answer. In fact, the requirement to obtain a visa does not keep people out. Or it keeps the wrong people out. I am going to try an analogy that I am not sure will work – guns.
I believe that our laws prohibit certain types of people – convicted felons, for example – from purchasing guns. But if I am a convicted felon and I want a gun, especially if I want it for criminal reasons, I am going to know where to get a gun, and no laws are going to stop me. Before you can say toothless two-bit one-legged crack-smoking smack whore, I’m going to have a gun in my possession.
And if I am a terrorist mastermind and I want to send people into The Amerika to perpetrate a terrorist attack, your visa laws aren’t going to stop me either. Maybe you will not give visas to all of my people, but I only need a few of them there, and you will not be able to keep enough of them out.
Okay, that analogy didn’t quite work, but it’s the best I can do right now. So my final message today to The New Amerika is – please add the Czechs, Slovaks and Poles to the Visa Waiver Program – I am tired of all their bloody moaning.