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Business-Visa facilitation policies: Are they worth discussing in forums such as the WTO?, by Jonatas Kreuz & Alexandre Ramos Souto

Investing abroad to expand operations beyond national borders is an essential objective for numerous companies. Through investments, enterprises can find new markets for their products, increase and diversify production, and catch new opportunities, which typically involve in-depth analysis, intelligent use of available resources, and risk-taking. Notwithstanding, the challenges arising from international investments may affect not only the companies themselves but also the staff linked to these activities. In this sense, people in business complaining from visa and entry requirements and embarrassment upon arrival in some countries is astonishingly frequent.

Traveling missions are frequently among the first steps for any regular investment procedure, which means too much struggle to obtain an admission approval might create unnecessary awkwardness right at the beginning of investment plans and operations. Diverse states are indeed reputed for demanding harsh visa requirements. Sometimes, such difficulties end up causing delays, cancelation of missions, and sometimes even canceling investment projects.

Among the chief complaints regarding this subject is the amount and content of visa application requisitions. Demands such as variated certificates, evidence of registrations in different bodies, proof of minimal investment expenditures, and letters of recommendation with particular indications and specific signatories might, in some cases, be challenging for applicants to obtain. In a few circumstances, exigencies and the way they are presented might seem discriminatory. As such, countries should properly balance their security needs with facilitation purposes to review, to the extent possible, their exigencies and approval methods.

A second factor relates to the difficulty of obtaining all pertinent information due to the absence of appropriate communication channels for the interested parties. As a result, applicants struggle to comply with all requirements and understand how to send their applications. Avoiding such an obstacle and its resulting uncertainty is imperative. In this regard, maintaining an operative website with all applicable requisites on which applicants can send their applications can be notably convenient.

A third factor relates to the need to attend interviews at visa application centers and complexities for scheduling them. Reaching such a center might require, in some cases, long-distance travel, something discouraging for not residents in major cities. Bearing in mind advancements related to Information Technology (TI) and its new data management tools, nations should consider alternatives for some cases to avoid such restraints.

The next factor relates to the processing of applications. A long waiting time – such as more than one month, along with delays and shortage of notice concerning applications’ status, hinders appropriate travel planning, again leading to postponements and cancellations.

Finally, there is the issue of the applicable fees. Rates that are higher than the international average may draw attention and become a restraint by themselves. Therefore, reasonably measuring the fees charged by taking concrete examples from the outside world into account may be peremptory for governments to avoid contracting the natural flow of investments into their boundaries.

Following the ACP EU Migration Action (2018), nations can address some of these issues through some new data management technological tools to improve efficiency and security and streamline their visa procedures and border management. The first tool is the online visa application, which allows applicants to apply, pay, and receive an e-Visa wherever they are. The second is the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), which enables visitors to proceed to a given country, generally without a Visa. The third is the Advance Passenger Information (API), which interchange passport’s identification data with carriers’ information, such as airline companies.

Some concrete examples from developing countries in the matter of business visas are also noteworthy. One is the Nigerian Visa on Arrival Application Process, endorsed by the country’s 2015 Immigration Law, whose Section 20 (7) authorizes the issuance of temporary visas right at the port of entry for some eligible persons, such as frequently traveled businesspeople (the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2015).

Such an application process benefits passengers for its simplicity and effectiveness. According to Nigeria’s Immigration Office, it enables users to apply through an online application form and obtain, after only two working days of processing time, a Visa Approval Letter, valid for use at the port of entry for up to 14 days. Due to compliments received from the international community, the Nigerian example is often remembered as a good practice in the area, and an illustration of what is to be encouraged from countries in discussions relates to business visas.

Another interesting example comes from the developed world, precisely from the United States. According to the US Customs and Border Protection – CBP (2017), nationals from countries with which the CBP has trusted traveler arrangements can apply to the Global Entry program, which confers benefits such as expedited clearance upon arrival in the USA to pre-approved, qualified persons. Applicants are required to pay an application fee and pass both a background check and an interview.

The program’s membership lasts for five years, during which participants are allowed to use Global Entry’s automated kiosks at US airports and pre-clearance locations (US Customs and Border Protection, 2007). As such, by contributing to streamlining international arrival processes at primary airports, the program positively encourages relevant business flowing into US borders.

Apart from examples emanating from countries, visa facilitation policies are also recurrent in formal and informal discussions in governments, Universities, and international forums and organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). In this regard, several people favor including visa facilitation policies as a chapter of the future WTO Agreement on Investment Facilitation for Development, which is currently being negotiated.

Supporters argue that this could help the organizations’ members to design appropriate domestic regulations on the subject by including, for instance, provisions concerning formal requirements and qualifications for the entry and sojourn of investment-related personnel, with a view on transparency and streamlining of application procedures. According to them, the successful outcomes of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation could serve as an example for the visa text.

Notwithstanding, there is no consensus on this subject. Some understand that international organizations should support governments in the area by only providing technical assistance and illustrative, not binding guidelines, while nations preserve their sovereignty by individually implementing the solutions they found appropriate for their security needs. Others recognize the importance of the matter but do not consider it among the chief priorities at the moment, which is why they propose, amid others, the future institution of a working group to discuss the issue in the context of a future Investment Facilitation Agreement’s implementation.

Regardless of the position of each one, it seems many favor international discussions on the topic. All the constraints exemplified before affecting business travelers contradict principles related to good receptivity of foreign nationals and the effectiveness sought by leading companies. The question remains as to how to approach the issue properly, defining, among others, whether future international guidelines and rules regarding business visas should be binding or not, and which supranational forum would be the most suitable for such discussions.

Whichever option nations choose, such debates would unquestionably be in their benefit, especially for countries in the early stages of development, as these are the ones that may profit the most from more capital flowing into their economies, contributing to their developing plans and needs.

References

ACP EU Migration Act. “Visa Facilitation and new technologies.” Briefing document for the Peer-to-Peer Exchange Meeting on Visas. Lusaka, Zambia (May 2018). ​ Retrieved August 29th, 2020, from https://acpeumigrationaction.iom.int/sites/default/files/PPMeeting_Visa/briefing_paper_-_technology.pdf.

Nigeria Immigration Service. “Nigerian Visa on Arrival Application Process.” Retrieved August 29th, 2020, from https://immigration.gov.ng/voa-new/.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria. “Immigration Act.” Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette 102, no. 73 (June 8th, 2015). Retrieved August 29th, 2020, from https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/104155/126945/F-956386412/NGA104155.pdf.

US Customs and Border Protection. “CBP Launches Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival at 5 International Airports.” US Customs and Border Protection. Washington (July 7th, 2017). Retrieved August 29st, 2020, from https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry.

US Customs and Border Protection. “Global Entry.” Retrieved August 29th, 2020, from https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry.

About the authors

Jonatas Kreuz – Ministério da Economia – Secretaria Especial de Comércio Exterior e Assuntos Internacionais (Secint)

Alexandre de Pádua Ramos Souto – Delegação do Brasil junto à Organização Mundial do Comércio e outras organizações econômicas em Genebra (DELBRASOMC).

How to cite this article

Cite this article as: Editoria Mundorama, "Business-Visa facilitation policies: Are they worth discussing in forums such as the WTO?, by Jonatas Kreuz & Alexandre Ramos Souto," in Revista Mundorama, 04/09/2020, https://mundorama.net/?p=27641.

Professor e pesquisador da área de política externa brasileira do Instituto de Relações Internacionais da Universidade de Brasília (iREL-UnB). É editor da Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional - RBPI (http://www.scielo.br/rbpi) e de Meridiano 47 (http://www.meridiano47.info). Pesquisador do Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq).