The thorny issue of visas

One of the many inconveniences that intrepid travelers must occasionally contend with, is that of obtaining visas to enter certain countries. Some countries — like the USA for example — make the process quite straight forward if you’re lucky enough to be part of their visa waiver programme known as ESTA as all you need to do is complete an online form and pay the relevant visa charge. Canada followed suit last year and Turkey operate a straight forward visa application process that is conducted online. India, Kenya and Vietnam now also enable prospective visitors to their respective countries to apply online by uploading all the necessary corroborating documentation and photo i.d.

In recent days, news has even emerged that both British and Irish citizens may have to run the gauntlet of an ESTA-type visa waiver system to enter all other Eurozone countries, after EU ambassadors confirmed agreement on the scheme by the EU Council Presidency and representatives of the EU parliament. Travel authorisation will cost €7 and last a maximum three years or until expiry of the travel document used for the application. The ETIAS scheme, based on the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA), is expected to come into force in 2020. Travellers from the UK, Ireland and Cyprus will have to register online and pay the fee to visit countries including France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece.

As recently as earlier this year, the Henley Passport Index ( ) ranked the Irish Passport as the 5th most powerful passport in the world based on the number of countries that Irish citizens can enter around the world without the need of a visa (176). The top-ranking passport is claimed jointly by both Japan and Singapore as their respective citizens can visit 180 countries around the world without the need for an entry visa (light a candle for those with Afghani passports as they are ranked 105th in the world with visa-free entry to just 24 sovereign states!)

One of the problems that visa applicants have to endure (aside from the cost) is the fact that in many instances, they have to physically send their passports to the embassy in question and often return days later to collect them with the relevant visas affixed — all well and fine if you reside in Dublin and the relevant embassy is located there — not so fine if you live in Tralee or Letterkenny or if the territory you wish to visit does not have a diplomatic presence in the Emerald Isle. Then there are those anomalous situations that occasionally raise their heads and which my father had the misfortune many years ago to become acquainted with the hard way!

Both my parents were planning to attend the wedding of a relative in Oregon and both their passports were due for renewal. When they went to enquire about getting new ones they were shocked at how expensive they had become. As my mother was born in Northern Ireland, she was entitled to apply for a British passport which she duly did, simply because it was cheaper. Not wishing to be out-manoeuvred, my father applied for one too because, as someone who had been born on the island of Ireland prior to 1948, he was entitled to do so.

The problem arose when both my parents transferred terminals at Heathrow and my mother represented herself at the United Airlines transfer desk in Terminal 3. She was allowed to go through, but my father was stopped because — as it subsequently became to them and me afterwards — she was travelling on her passport as a British citizen whereas my father’s passport stated that he was a British subject and unlike British citizens, British subjects were not part of the American visa waiver scheme! He had no choice but to return to Ireland and he never got to attend the wedding. He couldn’t claim a refund on the unused long-haul ticket as the error was entirely his and so it proved to be both an expensive and traumatic experience for an elderly traveller. Indeed, so affected was my father over that episode that he never undertook another long-haul flight to the States or indeed anywhere else for that matter afterwards.

And the moral of this story — always read the small print and cross the T’s and dot the I’s where visas are concerned as failure to do so can sometimes have costly consequences.

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