How Passports Promote Xenophobia

Published by Hasan Mansoor on

One important thing to mention before we get into the discussion is that this is a problem faced almost exclusively by Third-world countries and that essentially means it is not brought into public discussion much, if ever. The power of movements, if you would call it that, does not exist on the same scale in developing countries as it does in the already developed ones.

Passports are mostly used for the identification of people traveling abroad. No harm there as proper identification is essential to security everywhere. What is problematic is when those passports are given a certain ranking and countries become biased towards foreign travelers of the said countries.

Passport rankings essentially describe how free to move travelers are from different countries. The most important metric is how many countries can someone travel without needing a prior visa.

It is only fair to point out that it is the government of every country that decides who they consider being visa-free entrants and that is primarily based on the relations with the said countries and their global image as a whole.

The traveler, in the end, is scrutinized the most just by the cover of their passport. In my opinion, there is no certain way to find out whether a traveler actually agrees with the stance of their country on anything and therefore should not be subjected to biased behavior. The only fault of the traveler is that they did not win the lottery of birth and are then subjected to a lifetime of scrutiny until they manage to immigrate to somewhere better.

But is the area of residence really indicative of the rights a person should have? Think of it this way: if whichever country you live in starts differentiating its citizen’s rights on the basis of their neighborhood’s crime rate, would that not spark outrage? It is not to say that neighborhoods do not have some form of generalized behavior, but does that really mean that every person from a specific living space will have the same sentiments as the system as a whole? I, for one, do not agree with the majority of the decisions my country has made on my behalf without consulting me, yet I am subjected to its consequences the most.

When you have a passport on the lower end of the spectrum, the judgemental and suspicious looks you get from immigration officers is one thing, completely being rejected to travel abroad is another. For someone with a Pakistani passport, both of these scenarios are far too common of an occurrence.

There are so many incidents that describe just how biased countries can be to individuals simply based on where they were born without actually assessing them. Take this incident of two female video game developers from Pakistan who were denied a visa into the United States for no particular reason, even though they were invited to a world-renowned gaming conference (IGDA)

This is also not a one-time thing. Situations like these arise too often for people with less privileged passports and it truly shatters dreams for many. An all-girl team from Afghanistan for a robotics competition was also denied entry into the USA for no apparent reason.

If you start to look out for them, the cases keep on coming and bring more unfinished dreams out in the open. While stories about visa rejections usually get highlighted for academic scholars and athletes, the common man who exists for the sole purpose of traveling to explore life is not given much sympathy. They are told to simply accept that such a reality exists and there is not much to be done about it, except for reapplying which rarely ever returns a different result.

For friends who have traveled abroad and successfully managed visas, the aura that they feel from immigration officers is rarely ever welcoming. Usually, they just get sent to secondary screening after the officers have a look at the cover of their passport. While the employees tasked with the process are just performing their jobs, is it not time that the system is improved to give more chances to people based on their individuality?

Does the high number of rejection rates for weak passport countries really mean that all of them have come to cause harm? According to Travel.State.Gov, 48.26% of B-visas from Pakistan, 39.78% from Bangladesh, and 63.32% from Burkina Faso were rejected by the US government in 2019. From such large figures, it appears that actually filtering out the bad eggs is less of a priority and eliminating entire batches of applications without due diligence is the primary task.

Let’s look at some statistics of two infamous neighbors, India and Pakistan. Henley Passport Index ranks India 84th on a global scale while Pakistan is at the 104th spot, close to the bottom. Indian B-Visa rejection rates for the USA are 27.75% compared to Pakistan’s 48.26%. According to this Travel.State.Gov report, a total of 643,853 visas were issued to Indians while only 37,832 were issued to Pakistanis. With over 17 times more visas being issued to India than Pakistan and roughly half the rejection rates, it is clear that it is more of a xenophobic problem than a racial one as both countries belong to the same race and became independent only 73 years ago.


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