By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This was one of the hundreds of political commentaries I delivered on the 6.30 prime time news of the CRTV National Radio Station in Yaounde between 2000 and 2005. This particular one was occasioned by an increase in visa application fees by the USA embassy in Yaounde. It was broadcast of 24 October 2002.
The fee increase by any standards is steep because by going up from CFA 45 5000 to 70 000, it registers a hefty jump of 53.84 per cent. In concrete terms, the policy means that visa applicants must henceforth find the extra outlay of CFA24 500 to add to the CFA45 500 they were charged before, for there to be any hope of obtaining a visa for Uncle Sam`s land of opportunities.
As if to rub it in, the text states that the fee must be paid in advance, whether or not the visa is granted. The small print so to speak, adds that a small fee is charged if the visa is granted. So, the few candidates who survive the first stage of payment are made to pay a second fee.
The reason given for the fee increase is the need to bring the fee in line with the actual cost of administering the non-immigrant visas in the post September 11 environment, an obvious reference to the terrorist bombings that saw the blowing up of the World Trade Centre twin buildings in New York. To put the new visa requirement in another way, each non-immigrant visa applicant for the United States is being indirectly asked to pay for the fight against Ben Laden, the rich Saudi religious fanatic whom the US holds responsible for the serious dent to American national pride and invincibility.
That in itself is not a bad idea since it is right for all possible measures to be taken to deal international terrorism a deadly blow. Nonetheless, the sharp rise in visa fees once more raises the question of the manner in which visa applicants are treated. This, of course, applies not only to those traveling to the US but really also those traveling to any of the other world great powers. Some of those favourite destinations are France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Russia, to name those, since all of those countries seem to apply a similar policy characterized by a disposition geared more towards rejecting a visa application than accepting it, even if the applicant meets all the stipulated conditions.
Although Cameroonians not directly involved in the visa application process may not know it, approaching the embassies of theses countries with a view to travelling to the latter is nothing short of a nightmare. In many cases, once a visa fee is paid, it becomes non-refundable, regardless of the outcome of the application. As we can see, in this domain, there is no “money-back guarantee”, which means that for once, the customer is not king. Yet, a new application entails a new payment of the visa fee. Some embassies even go as far as proclaiming that provision of all the required documents and even success at the interview and subsequent granting of the visa are no guarantees that the applicant will necessarily be granted entry into the country they are traveling.
Visa officials are clearly a law unto themselves because not only do embassies systematically reject the majority of visa applications, some of the reasons for which these rejections are made are simply ridiculous. These include the pretext that an applicant is unlikely to return to his or her country after visiting or studying in the foreign country. Other reasons are that the candidate is traveling abroad to study a course that is offered in his or her own country, as though the freedom to travel and visit and study had been withdrawn. Sometimes, embassies reject an application without giving a reason, which makes it difficult for the applicant to tell what went wrong with the process, or why so much invested time finally became a mere waste.
Although one can understand that these countries need to control the number of foreigners entering their national territories, it must also be said that unorthodox refusal methods can only encourage illegality on the part of applicants determined to beat the embassies at their own game.
Frankly, embassies would do well to be more civil with applicants by treating them as worthy customers for whom they are where they are and without whom they would be nowhere. Immigration officials should be more humane, diplomatic and transparent. It would also help if our own authorities take a more supervisory look at what is going on in foreign embassies, rather than just issue a blank cheque by assuming that all is well, when in fact, it is not.