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Patrolled borders, closed doors

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Kubatana.net recently received a press release from the United States Embassy in Harare containing information on Electronic Visa Application Forms (EVAFs). Please click here to read the text of the press release.

And we got this response from one of our subscribers:

The long and the short of it is that the US Embassy now requires all people wishing to travel to the US to complete an EVAF online. They say that hand written applications will no longer be accepted. They claim that this will “speed up and simplify” the US visa application process. And that the new system will “improve efficiency and customer service.”

Doubtless, it has the potential to do exactly that. For those foreign citizens who have access to a computer and the internet, with a connection speed that doesn’t time out at some point as they fill in the application’s 41 questions, that has Adobe Acrobat reader installed, and which is attached to a laser or ink jet printer.

For them, the new requirements will certainly speed up the process.

But how many Zimbabweans have access to all of this technology? How many Zimbabweans know how to use the Internet, much less fill in an online form? With Tel-One’s non-payment of its debts, how many Zimbabwean ISPs are still even able to dial up? How long does the average connection stay on line before it times out and you have to start again?

And what about all of those citizens in other countries that are even less technologically advanced than Zimbabwe?

Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the iconic symbol of America’s status as a nation of immigrants, a safe haven for the persecuted and prosperous alike. It says, in part:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Are the “wretched refuse” supposed to stop by the Internet cafe en route to the Embassy? It’s one thing to introduce a new procedure to make the process more efficient for those for whom it’s relevant, useful, or indeed easier. It’s another thing to require it for everyone, full knowing that Internet access, and skill, are not universally available.

Not that the new requirements mark a radical change in the US visa policies that have developed over the past fifty years. The American government already has a legion of restrictions to hold back the rising tide of “huddled masses.” Applicants are required to prove “sufficient funds” and “compelling social and economic ties” in their home country, not to mention a USD 100 processing fee – forfeited whether you get your visa or not. These are all powerful measures which already limit the number of visa applications the US government has to process each year. Quotas further restrict the number of visas that can be granted to citizens from any given country. And it’s an open secret that the quotas are lower for poorer countries than for wealthier ones.

The introduction of the EVAF might well be just another tactic in pre-selecting the “type” of person who is an acceptable visitor to the United States.

Maybe it’s time to scrub off the pedestal on the Statue of Liberty. And rewrite it.

Give me your wealthy, your comfortable,
Your educated elite yearning to spend money,
The select technocrats who can fill out our forms.
Send these, the privileged, fortunate few to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

2 comments to “Patrolled borders, closed doors”

  1. Comment by …My heart’s in Accra » Blogs, Human Rights Video from Zimbabwe:

    [...] Like many Zimbabwean bloggers, the authors on Kubatanablogs aren’t signing posts with their names… but they are speaking bluntly on controversial topics. A recent post looks at the US Embassy in Harare’s decision to move the US visa process online… which means it’s very difficult for people without access to a computer or online skills to apply for a visa. The commenter observes: The introduction of the EVAF might well be just another tactic in pre-selecting the “type” of person who is an acceptable visitor to the United States. [...]

  2. Comment by Tendai Gwatidzo:

    As a working class Zimbabwean, this is just an addition to how the US Visa process has always been complicated for the average man/woman. Before this, you needed to have a unbelievably large amount of money in your bank account to even be considered for a Visa. I remember going to the US embassy with a friend who had inherited some money from his father who had passed away. He showed his bank statement which had way over the minimum required amount of money to the Indian lady at the Visa Application window, she went and got a colleague- who was Chinese I think. They looked at my friend up and down and denied his Visa application. Reason given – “you don’t look like you could have this amount of money in your bank account.”