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Passports & Travel Visas—The Relationship

By Patsy Wolf

Introduction to Travel Visas

The Travel Visa process is a complicated procedure and it is even more difficult to put into writing the complexity of the details. Extensive experience in the business for over 35 years is where this information is developed. Hours of research will yield nearly nothing in writing on the subject. This paper is written to offer a small understanding of the visa process and the relationship that the passport issuing agent plays in the completion process.

 In the past, I have heard passport agents say “I do not know of a visa that takes longer than 30 days.” While this may be true for some countries, it is not true for all. There is no standard visa processing time, all countries have their own set of rules, requirements and processing times. Because of the complexity of the system, requirements, economics, diplomatic relationships and concerns for terrorism, document processing requires a much closer look.

Definition

A visa is an official document issued by a country for a citizen of another country to do something in the issuing country; for example, tourist, business, work or study, just to name a few. Normally, the visa is placed inside the passport on a visa page; although several countries now have electronic processes for some types of visas.

The United States electronic visa is known as a visa wavier. It allows people to enter the United States for a specific amount of time without obtaining the visa in advance. Although the visa holders are allowed on the flight to the United States, the final decision to admit them into the country happens in the customs and immigration post, upon their arrival. People who act strange or answer questions incorrectly can be returned to the country who last received them.

Often applicants think it is easier when processing their visas for a county to go as a tourist or on business when their real purpose is to be a student or to go for work. These people, when questioned, might answer the question with information that requires a visa. Because their visit requires a visa, they are subject to be denied entry into the country.

Two factors determine what type of visa applicants should apply for: 1) the intended purpose and 2) length of stay. These factors can change the visa requirements, as well as processing time. There are more than 500,000 different types of visas among the 270 countries and political boundaries.

History

It is unknown when the actual visa stamping process truly began.

Since the beginning of time, travelers have had some type of paper work showing their identity and purpose of their journey. During the mid-evil times, letters written by landowners requesting safe passage for people living under their control were given to travelers. These letters were very simple. They made the request giving limited information on the traveler and information on the purpose of their journey. Often the land owner’s personal seal was affixed to the letter. The letter was carried by the traveler to present to other landowners or government officials if challenged. These papers were the only insurance for safe passage for the holder.

During the U.S. Civil War, documents of safe passage were written by doctors, attorneys and other government officials requested safe passage of the traveler and their purpose to travel behind enemy lines.

Today we have a system of visa requirements that start with the document of nationality (passport) and re-entry permit or refuge document. Without one of these documents a visa cannot be issued.

An additional type document called a Laissez-Passer can be issued to citizens to return to their own country without a passport. These documents are issued when an applicant has lost their passport. This type of document is issued for a one time trip and many countries have now discontinued there use.

What is the Consulate Core?

The diplomatic system is standard through the world.

Prior to World War II, many countries around the world had different Consulate titles. A number of treaties signed after the war included a diplomatic organizational chart, making the ranks more consistent. Although most countries follow this ranking system, there are variations from country to country.

There are two divisions to the diplomatic core: a political and a non-political section. The first deals with highly political issues and the second deals with issues that are non-political.

Officers assigned to the political side of diplomacy work on international matters which include representing their country at meetings, conferences and other special missions.

The most common ranks are: Ambassador, Minister, Minister-Counselor, Counselor, First Secretary, Second Secretary, Third Secretary, Attaché and Assistant Attaché.

Diplomats on the non-political side consist of the Consular Core. These officers deal with the “consular services” side of diplomacy which includes visas, passports, legalizations, apostilles and problems related to their own citizens, as well as foreign nationals needing documentation in the country.

Their ranks include: Consul-General, Consul, Vice Consul, and Consular Agent. Their titles can be concurrent with diplomatic rankings.

Honorary Consul and Honorary Vice-Consul are titles given to people who have been appointed to represent their country (or a country) in areas where the country has no official Consulate office. They do not have immunity. They deal with citizen emergencies, give information and deal with matters mandated by the consulate.

Diplomatic and consul officers are charged with maintaining the rules and regulations of the country they serve. In the case of visas, the consuls are charged with protecting their population from people who might harm, damage or commit crimes against the state. It is a very serious post, not to be taken lightly. Consuls can lose their position if they issue visas to people who cause problems in their country. Because it is the consul officer that bares this personal responsibility, they are allowed to, within certain guidelines, decide upon what documentation they want to require from the traveler.

New consul officers are much more careful and demanding of their documentation whereas diplomats who have reached the rank of Ambassador are often less ridged in their requirements and can access the application based on their experience. This is reason that we get different requirements or variation of the requirements from consulate to consulate and from visa officer to visa officer within the same country.

Visa Categories

There are fifteen (15) basic visa categories. Some countries have more and many have less. Many countries have different names or numbers for these types of visas but the purpose of trips normally fall within these categories. Some countries do not always require visas for short stays. For example, most European countries allow U.S. Citizens to enter without a visa for tourism and business, but other reasons, such as work, study or missionary purposes, a visa would be required. In Europe if you are going for one of these purposes, it can take up to 9 months to get the visa approval, depending on the country. Changing the application status is not an option in many cases. The visa must be obtained prior to entry but the actual process of obtaining the visa may vary depending on the country.

Listed below are the categories which are most common.

  • Tourist Visa
  • Business Visa
  • Transfer of Tourist Visa
  • Transfer of Business Visa
  • Transfer of Entry Visa
  • Conference Visa
  • Transit Visa
  • Entry Visa
  • Employment Visa
  • Student Visa
  • Research Visa
  • Missionaries Visa
  • Journalist Visa
  • Medical Visa
  • Medical Attendant Visa
  • Seaman Visas or Crew Visas

Requirements for visas:

Visas requirements are not as simple as a passport, photo and form. Many visa types require certified birth records, marriage certificates, educational verification, medical records, validations of credential, and much more. In many cases the documents are translated by a certified translator. These documents must be notarized and then authenticated by one of two processes: Apostilles or Legalized.

Prior to completing applications for visa processing with these requirements the passport number is required and is mandatory.

Passport information with includes, name, date of birth, passport number, date and place of issue and expiration date are required on all correspondence and applications submitted to the foreign government for visa approval.

Since the U.S. has no process for certifying passports the acceptable process is to make photocopies of all pages of the passport, translate them into the official language of the country accepting the visa application and having them authenticated.

Visa requirements and fees change daily making updating websites and processing difficult. If the requirements change the visa application is delayed until the additional requirements are met.

Passports and Visas: The Relationship.

Since a passport is a document of national identity and a visa is document of permission for the passport holder to “do something” in a country such as be a tourist, work, study, research and so on; before applying for a visa, applicants must have a valid passport with remaining validity from one month to one year. The remaining validity is determined by the receiving country.

Many visa types require approval from the home country before they can be issued. Passport information such as number, date and place of issue are required prior to the time the invitation is issued.

Foreign passports now require a great deal of time especially in smaller and third-world countries because applications must be sent to the homeland for processing. The implementation of the new electronic passport requirement has forced all the countries in the world to purchase expensive equipment to produce the passport books. Because of the cost of this equipment, countries have restricted the passport processing to the homeland. Consulates of many countries cannot issue passports, which mean that applicants must plan ahead for their passport processing needs.

Processing Times

Processing times vary from consulate to consulate. The type of visa being requested determines the processing time.

One of the most common mistakes visa applicants make is that the visa can be processed in a few days. With modern electronics the processing time has improved, but when the visa requires referral to the ministry in the homeland, some visa types take months.

An example of a lengthy visa processing:

U.S. Citizens can go to Italy on business or pleasure without a visa for stays up to 90 days; however, if the applicant is going as a student, or to work, the processing can take up to 9 months. Each country has their own processing procedures which require time for processing.

Processing times also fluctuate depending on regulations and volume of applications in the consulate.

Conclusion

Visa processing is not as simple as many believe. In the United States often the most educated citizen has no idea what a visa is and why they need one. Americans have been spoiled. Many travelers believe that they can just go to the airport and travel. Two percent of all travelers arrive at the airport without proper documents to complete their trip. This includes: no Driver’s License or Photo ID, Invalid ID, and Expired ID. Most common denied boarding cases are for improper documentation, remaining validity, no child’s passport or an expired child’s passport.

Educating the American public on documentation requirements is difficult because travel, airline and education websites are not updated, or have no process for notifying passenger of travel requirements or changes.


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