Sunday, May 13, 2007

Waiving Visas

For those who don't know much about it, the Visa Waiver programme is a policy established between the US and 27 other countries to eliminate boundaries between allies. The ever brilliant Michael Chertoff is out there on a publicity tour touting the dangers of the Visa Waiver programme. He wants to get rid of it, or at least hack it within an inch of it's life. Allies are a rarity for us in this world these days, and taking away the VWP is going to be a fast way to lose the few we have. That guy is an incompetent hack and needs to shut up.

Why exactly is this being brought up? Well, because there are lots of people of Pakistani descent who live in the UK and other countries involved in the programme. These people have tight bonds with family in Pakistan, they travel there frequently and the US is afraid of Pakistan because there are Muslims there. Osama bin Laden might be there. We believe there are terrorist training camps there. And we're afraid of Pakistanis living in the UK because there have been a few of them involved in terror plots here.

Fine. Perhaps this is something to consider, but it's not a reason to engage in knee-jerk paranoia. The majority of these people we're worrying about are law abiding citizens and are just going home to visit their aging parents, their brothers/sisters/nieces/nephews and other loved ones. They have no reason to hate us, and wish us no ill.

Yet.

These same people currently face racial profiling, discrimination and even violence when they come home, a hot-button issue in the UK right now . This treatment will only intensify if ordinary UK citizens suddenly have to start doing paperwork if they want to travel to the US. The US Department of Homeland Security's pedagogery will be exacerbating a serious social ill for one of our key allies. This not only jeopardizes our friendship by creating internal political turmoil for the UK government, but we will ultimately contribute to the disenfranchisement that alienates young Islamic British citizens, which then leads to extremism and terrorist brainwashing, thus compounding our reasons to be fearful.

There are also economic ramifications to changing the VWP. Right now, a middle class British citizen can spend their holiday dollars on a trip to the US, and many of them do so...it's easy, they can book at the last minute to take advantage of a good fare, and they love the shopping and the culture and the good exchange rate they get on holiday. But if it's a hassle to get there, these same people will just go somewhere else with their money. You'll also lose money from international conferences and incentive travel....we already have upstanding participants turned back at the border because of teenage drunk driving incidents. If we now have to do paperwork for 1500 people to get them into the country, we'll go someplace else. End of story. There's a lot of money in this business. Other countries will be more than willing to take it from us.

Furthermore, the VWP also encourages global commerce by making it possible for someone like me to go back and forth between our US and UK office to work on a joint project without any cost or hassle to the company. You rescind the VWP, you rescind this, too. Suddenly everyday business will require companies to plan ahead, spend money and do paperwork. Sure, they'll still DO it....they won't divest in their US operations because we're gluttons who can't seem to stop spending and they want to take advantage of that. But if tariffs/trade barriers, and economic slowdowns, and exchange rates and now travel policies make it difficult and less profitable to do business in the US, they're not going to expand their investment there, either. Remember, non-US companies have a choice of where to invest their money. As emerging economies in Asia become stronger, they offer a low cost, educated/skilled workforce and a large consumer base for products...they are attractive markets for investment. US arrogance from years of superpower status has made us complacent to many nuances of the changing global economic climate, and we have begun falling behind in our ability to compete (I'm a Flat Earth believer). It seems really silly to be creating more barriers when we should actually be aggressively finding ways to break down existing ones.

And from a purely selfish perspective, remember...if the US changes their participation in the VWP, that's 27 countries that will soon require YOU get a visa before travelling, as well. Visas cost money, people. And take time. Start planning ahead for that last-minute vacation, and add $150 to the cost of your trip.

What are we really trying to do here? As I see it, we're trying to stop terrorists from getting into the US. Surely, we can find another way to do this effectively. Get more robust databases, share information with allies who are keeping track of potential troublemakers on home soil. Changing the VWP is not necessarily going to accomplish this. If the potential terrorists has a criminal record of any sort they are already flagged and sent home. And even Michael Chertoff tells stories of others who technically qualified for the VWP but who have been turned away at the border because the system found something else that was suspicious. To me, that sounds like a programme that just needs assistance, not cancelling.

1 comment:

Coaster Punchman said...

Maybe they should up the ante on the wiretapping thing. I would rather be eavesdropped on by a government agent than have to hassle with getting a visa.

Ok, I really want neither.

This sucks.