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- Published 9.02.10
In an ideal world, global citizens ought to enjoy the freedom to move as they wish, uninhibited by artificial barriers imposed by visas and State permits. Securing the requisite papers often turns out to be a herculean challenge, with an individual pitted against the might of the State and suffering endless humiliation and harassment. The situation is worse for the citizens of the developing world, wishing to set foot in the developed West in search of pleasure, prosperity or the prospect of a better education. Since the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the West has become intensely suspicious of visitors — and with good reasons too. At the same time, denying entry to students, tourists and entrepreneurs from the newly-moneyed part of the world is bad for the economy, which has taken a nosedive since the recession last year. So home offices are left staring at these conflicting realities with rising alarm and bafflement, and often impelled to resolve the contradictions with hasty and half-baked measures. Such seems to be the case with Australia and Britain. In their latest bid to tighten entry rules, they have decided to follow ‘new’ norms while issuing visas to Indian students. These rules involve a more scrupulous verification of documents submitted by travel agents or applicants, a criterion that should have been part of the standard visa-granting procedure anyway.
There would be no cause for quarrel if visa applications were considered on a case-by-case basis instead of being processed with an unspoken embargo on the entry of select religious and ethnic communities considered more suspect than others. Australia has an established tradition of welcoming a certain class of immigrants (educated, respectable, tax-paying, law-abiding, white-collar Indian workers) over those with less exalted qualifications (taxi-drivers, hairdressers, waiters or menial wage-earners). Britain, too, has become highly sensitive to settlers (even visitors) with the ‘wrong’ name or attire, following the recent wave of legislations introduced in France, now spreading across the European Union, that seek to redefine basic freedoms for the Muslim population. But keeping alive and deepening the differences merely lead to a bigger clash of civilizations, as India and its immediate neighbours, or the West and the East, are learning to their detriment.