In the context of Africa this often means having to cross the Sahel and Sahara and the Mediterranean in desperate journeys at the hands of unscrupulous traffickers, very often aided and abetted by corrupt officials and resulting in a disastrous loss of life, as in the recent cases off the coast of Lampedusa Island, positioned between Libya and Sicily.
Like any other type of immigration, illegal economic migration has a huge cost – not only for the host country and the illegal migrants themselves, but also for legal migrants or even genuine prospective visitors to these countries.
The impact of these consequences on the immigration and visa entry policies of EU countries, especially the UK, is clear, and is often also directly linked to the politics and economics of immigration in these societies. This makes life very difficult for people with genuine reasons to travel to Europe.
One manifestation is the rising costs of visas for genuine visitors. It may suggest that EU governments are using the tactic of discouraging visitors to come to Europe by making visa costs prohibitive to the ordinary visitor. The complaints from thousands of unsuspecting legitimate migrants and visitors from non-EU countries to the UK and the EU are now becoming legendary, as well as known for their futility.
Take, for instance, South Africa, whose citizens used to enjoy visa-free entry into the UK and Switzerland, with a three to six months short-stay visa usually given at the point of entry. Many of them were even allowed to work there for short periods, perhaps on the basis of reciprocity. But the abuse by some South Africans, of over-staying their visas, and of the scandal of forged passports and birth certificates, effectively forced London to introduce visa requirements for South African citizens.
Today that process has acquired near absurd dimensions with in-depth interviews and a need for bank statements and personal appearances, and it involves extremely prohibitive costs.
“The visa process for the UK is so cumbersome and costly, that it becomes a disincentive to travel to the UK, whether for a holiday or business or even in a professional capacity. For a short-stay visa (3 to 6 months) it costs up to R1,600, and for a long-term visa its ranges from R5,700 for a 1-year one to a whopping R10,400 for a 5-year permit. This is very prohibitive for even middle-class South Africans, especially if they travel as a family,” explained one prominent South African professional, who wished to remain anonymous.
Another South African from Cape Town recounted his family of four’s experience this year. They had booked a special deal holiday to Europe, which included Norway, Germany, Denmark and the UK.
Since Norway was the first port of entry, they had to get their Schengen Visa from the Norwegian Embassy – even if Norway is not a member of the EU, it is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement.
“Because there is no Norwegian Consulate in Cape Town,” he explains, “we had to fly to Pretoria to apply for our visa in person and to attend the interview. They do not accept written or postal visa applications. You’ve got to attend in person. That meant we had to fly to Johannesburg and then hire a car to take us to Pretoria to the embassy and stay overnight in a hotel. The whole process becomes costly, time-consuming and unfair, and punishes the genuine visitor to Europe. We sometimes wonder whether these procedures are not simply an additional back-door mechanism of immigration control and revenue generation.”
The constraints on and toughening of immigration processes are not confined to visitors. Even if you are a genuine economic migrant, the smallest of slip-ups could cost you your immigration status. Dr Jamal (not his real name) from Kenya found out to his dismay how an emergency business trip to France cost him his immigration status in the UK.
He is a well-off businessman with interests in trade and financial institutions. He used to travel to the UK frequently, sometimes for business and sometimes for a break. He even owns a £4m house in a posh North London suburb.