The world is in the process of swinging from a phase of globalisation and integration to the other extreme. Whether it is Donald Trump in the US, Theresa May in the UK or indeed the increasing right wing voice in countries of the European Union, the strident voices all project a tone of closing borders, looking inwards and generally stemming the flow of travellers and immigrants (as well as refugees). This protectionism comes at the end of a very long phase of integration that saw the creation of the Schengen zone, Free trade zones across the world and opening up of countries that inherently looked at foreigners with distrust.
The change will bring about a major rejigging of the global economy. It’ll happen over the next few years and we will either go through the pains of being cast out of a growth curve or enjoy the renewed vigour of investments flowing our way. There is very little, we as individuals can do about that. However, the unwanted downside is that for many of us, travel is going to become more complicated. And I tell you this as a holder of a passport that necessitates visiting most embassies for a visa.
In the past few days, something has changed and for the positive. I can now visit UAE and get a visa on arrival because I have a US Visa. I’m not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it is a bit ironic that the value of the Indian passport as a travel document improves drastically because of the presence of the US endorsement. It’s a way of profiling the elite from the toiling masses and serves as a good method to accommodate a group that is among the largest investor segments and serves to increase tourist footfalls.
There are other countries that have similar arrangements, using the vetting processes behind a US or Schengen visa to imply suitability. I’ve faced this in Mexico and in Montenegro. But it’s odd indeed that the more open countries of the west are choosing this time to basically deny entry to many. As it is the process only gets more tedious and time-consuming. Most European embassies in Oman have begun to offer online interview date booking that can extend a month into the future. That has always been a problem for yours truly who usually gets an invite for an event with a couple of weeks notice. Sometimes you get lucky with an embassy giving you a longish term multiple entry visa that sees you through the year.
It’s at times like that you wish that you had one of the ‘grade 1’ nationalities that the countries in the region are in love with – allowing you to travel at will.
Finally, that is the reason you have a passport – for the freedom and ability to travel. You begin to question the utility of it when so many restrictions begin to crop up – you can visit some country but not another; in some cases you can get a visa online, in others you are at the mercy of a private service provider who manages to peddle a VIP service at an extra cost instead of just delivering the visa when they should.
Admittedly, every traveller does not expect the same level of freedoms. If your idea of travel is only limited to working abroad and travelling back home for the once in two year holiday, then you really don’t spend too much time thinking about the logistics. But what of the iterant traveller who needs to go places and get things done, even if the idea of his own importance is often not matched by his wherewithal?
It’s a fact that free travel powers economic growth – more visitors mean more tourism income, more hotel rooms occupied, more airline seats filled and all the connected spends. International Expos, business conferences, Olympics, Carnival or even the umpteen car launches we attend all over the world require the freedom to move and a feeling of being needed at the destination country. Without that, with the message being that you are basically unwanted, the chances that you will do your bit for the global economy is so much smaller. It is not just the flow of people and money – ideas, cultures, gastronomies, social structures, all need to travel freely so that the world’s population is less xenophobic and more integrated.