domingo, mayo 25, 2014

VFS Joint Visa Application Centre: Another legal but corrupt business

I just returned from the VFS Visa Application Centre in London, where I applied to a visa to Germany. I go more or less once every three months for a visa application to a European (Schengen) country. Every time I pay 82 GBP in visa service fees, 60 GBP visa fee plus 22 GBP courier fee. Over time, I have become an expert in preparing my applications, I have a folder where I keep the supporting documentation and just need to update a couple of documents for every new application. In the end, it is becoming a matter of coming to the centre, waiting in line, and paying the fees with my bank card, not very different from buying a product at the supermarket. While I am paying, I can see at the other counters applicants with similar folders that are quickly processed and the cashier finally offering the credit card terminal to make the payment, everybody entering the pin code and purchasing visas to different European countries.

I was very naive to think that the visitor visa system is just a legal form of discrimination whereby wealthy countries protect their resources. The rationale behind is that citizens lucky to be born in a wealthy nation are reluctant to share their resources or work more to compete with nationals of poor countries eager to make progress. The way the visa system works is by creating barriers for national of specific countries, typically, poorer countries, to come and stay permanently. It is a bit more complex than this, because sometimes you have two nations equally poor but one requires a visa and the other not, so there are political reasons as well, and sometimes it just seems arbitrary. In any case it is a legal form of discrimination by nationality that is widely accepted and rarely questioned. I am not sure if this discriminatory practice is specific of dominant Western cultures or if countries start introducing visa requirements for visitors as they become wealthier. That is, if it is just part of our greedy human nature.

But, not only the visitor visa system is a legal form of discrimination, obviously it is also a business. And in the UK it is the perfect business because applicants are already living in Europe and do not represent a major risk, they are residents of the UK, not tourists, they are usually studying or working, and less likely to use the visitor visa to stay permanently in another country. So the visa fee is not covering the risk of visitors staying in the country. Today I was number 835, and from previous experiences I would say around 1000 applicants come per day. This means countries make more or less 20 (days)*1000 (applicants) *60 (visa fee, not counting the courier service) = 1.2 million pounds per month, not a bad business eh? Perhaps a significant contribution in times of crisis, and what it's better is that it is made by citizens of poor countries living in the UK, no effort from the locals is demanded. And of course, to make more profit, unlike the US that issues visas for 5 or 10 years, visas are issued for short periods in an absolutely obscure process. You don't know if they will give you the visa for some days or one month, but usually it will be for less than three months. That way, you have to come back and pay again every time you want or need to travel to another European country. And this is only one centre, so make your own calculations. Legal, yes, but immoral.

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