Thursday, April 27, 2006

More on the Immigration Desk Hassle

This is sort of a follow-up to my post earlier in the week on Tunku Varadarajan, Amartya Sen, and racial profiling.

From the Times:

But a business traveler from Germany got my attention when he described what travel to the United States could be like these days. "At the airport, I was questioned very rudely for 20 minutes," he said. " 'Who are you?' 'What are you doing here?' Before unification, I was treated better at the checkpoints going into East Germany."

Whoa. What do we make of a foreign business traveler comparing his arrival in the United States with a pass through the surly gantlet at Checkpoint Charlie before the wall came down?

One thing became clear at this year's tourism council meeting, after all the happy proclamations about travel's global economic impact (leisure and business travel will account for more than $3 trillion in direct spending worldwide this year, for example). We have a problem, and Jay Rasulo, the chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, addressed it in a speech to more than 500 representatives from the world's travel industry.

"The U.S. share of international travel has dropped double digits since 2000, and 35 percent since 1992," he said. "Meanwhile, the global travel market is growing by leaps and bounds."

One reason to treat travelers with respect and dignity that isn't talked about much is pure economics, and it looks like the U.S. is already losing on that front.

The other thing: if even German businessmen feel hassled at the immigration desk, you know there is a real problem.


apu said...

I have been lurking around n your blog often, though havent ever posted a comment. Anyways, this is so true - it seems like the US actively wants to discourage visitors. In India, for e.g, If I just want to visit the US as a tourist, its often simply impossible to get a visa appointment at any of the consulates before 6 months. Why does the US imagine that everyone plans trips that much in advance? Infact you see tourism advertising here all the time by European countries, airlines, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong etc...the US on the other hand seems to have this attitude like, ok, everyone wants to emigrate here, now how can we prevent them!

Anonymous said...

Another regular lurker/first time commenter here. My rambling 2cents on these issues.

The attitude of immigration officials at the border posts are often difficult to explain. On the whole I have mostly had positive to neutral experiences at the borders (both land and air) - in pre 9/11 days, I have even crossed from Canada into US at the Niagara Falls border post with nary a glance at my passport. But I understand that my experiences are probably not typical - many people do get hassled without reason.

The behaviour with the German tourist seems odd - not many Germans are crying out to emigrate to the US. I can only explain it as an overzealous officer trying to do his patriotic bit with a 'Germany is not with us therefore against us' type of twisted logic! :-)

@ Apu: The visa apppointment fiasco presently in India, IMO, is mainly a problem with the private agency that was contracted to manage it since last year. The last company ,TTK, used to do a good job and one could get tourist or any other type of visa within a week or so without any problems. Still, it does not seem to deter people from applying to come here. Also, IMO (and I could be wrong here) most tourists coming to the US come here to visit family/friends, especially their children studying/working here. I think more people visit Europe/Singapore/Hong Kong just for pleasure. Finally, there has been many instances of misuse of tourist visas from India - people overstaying illegally - trying to convert to F1-student status et al. So you cannot fault the consulate for being careful. This does,however, pose problem for people who are trying to come here fairly. The consular officials also tend to be overzealous to ridiculous extents.

Another problem is regularly faced by scientists/technologists trying to come to the US for studying or simply attenting a conference. The VISA MANTIS system, whereby people in certain fields have to undergo security clearence, can sometimes take upto 3-4 months. I have known scientist from IISc who have had to apply 5 months in advance for the visa to be on the safe side. Unfortunately, the list of fields covered under MANTIS is pretty non-discriminating and therefore a waste of resources on both sides.

Anonymous said...

I won't have any complaints about the American INS as long as Indian immigration desks continue to be rude and supercilious --- last year, a friend and her husband were subjected to a "friendly" inquiry into how they managed to pull off an inter-caste marriage, for example. I usually see fewer smiles from officers in India than I do when I am traveling in the States.

I think we unfairly demonize American immigration. If it were really that hard to get a tourist visa, we should see a corresponding decline in applications vis-a-vis other reportedly friendlier countries --- but we don't.

Anonymous said...

Are other countries less strict about immigration than the US? A close friend of mine immigrated to the UK and said the process was quite simple - but the waiting period was 6 months.

Do other countries DNA test new immigrants for authentication purposes?