Sunday, August 07, 2005

More on Mauritania

My Mauritanian acquaintances have been less forthcoming than predicted, but I did get an e-mail from someone who was going to go to the U.S. in a few weeks who now says that with the 17 man military commission heading the country and the United States, UN, EU and African Union all condemning the coup, he may not be able to get a visa. A shame, really.

It's so hard for Africans to get visas to get to Europe and the U.S. For example, American citizens don't need a visa to be in a France as a tourist, and if you are in Senegal for less than 90 days you don't need a visa. But if you are from Africa, you need a visa even to set foot in France or the U.S. And you are only eligible for a visa if you have completed high school or have a skill that would require at least two years of training to acquire (or if you have about $6,000 to buy a visa on the black market -- from corrupt embassy officials -- or so someone claimed).

Holding an American passport, it's very easy to forget that the mobility that goes with that document isn't known to everyone. That there is extraordinary pent-up demand to make it to the first world. That immigration and visa policy matters enormously to many people. Everyone I met in Senegal asked me about getting visas: either it was an abstract wish, or they were in the process of getting one and were having trouble. Given how concrete the rebuff from the U.S. is when a visa is denied or takes forever, you could argue that visa policy matters far more to people in the third world, in some ways, than all that sexy foreign-policy-blowing-up-countries-stuff, or even than development.

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