Brazil Waives Visa Fee — and Why More Countries Should Follow Its Lead

Iguazu Falls Brazil

Dilma Rousseff — who is the current president of Brazil — has agreed to suspend the requirements for visas between Wednesday, June 1, 2016 and Sunday, September 18, 2016 in what is being known as the “exceptional, unilateral visa waiver” for visitors from certain other countries and regions which purportedly have “a strong Olympic tradition, which have hosted the Games in the past and pose no migration risk or national security risks.”

The 2016 Olympic Games in the city of Rio de Janeiro will occur from August 5, 2016 through August 21, 2016; while the Paralympic Games are scheduled to occur between Wednesday, September 7, 2016 and Sunday, September 18, 2016, according to this article posted at Rio de Janeiro News.net.

Brazil Waives Visa Fee

The United States, Canada, Australia and Japan are some of the countries expected to be included whose citizens will be able to stay for up to a maximum of 90 days without a visa when entering Brazil during the aforementioned waiver period, even though tourists visas to Brazil are valid for up to ten years. The visa waiver will not require visitors to Brazil to prove that they possess tickets to the Olympic games, and it will save citizens of the United States $160.00 in processing fees for obtaining a visa to visit Brazil.

Brazil normally requires a visa from citizens of most countries for which you apply online and have to send your passport to the consulate to have the visa attached”, according to this article written by Tara of Miles To The Wild. “So if you want to visit Brazil for eco-tourism & birding and HATE having to apply for visas, now’s your chance! Honestly, I wish I had known about this in time or I would have planned Brazil for this year’s trip as well!”

Citizens of countries which are not included in the joint decree — and of countries which do not have a permanent visa waiver agreement with Brazil — must still obtain a visa in order to visit Brazil. Visa requests already presented at the counter of the Consulate can neither be cancelled nor refunded; and visa applicants are responsible for being duly aware of visa procedures before applying for one. Here is a list of countries which have a permanent visa waiver agreement with Brazil.

Definition of Visa

A visa is a conditional endorsement on a passport which indicates that its holder is allowed to enter or leave a country; or remain in it for a specified period of time.

Every country has its own version of conditional endorsements — as well as ways to obtain them and pay for them. Some countries require a visa to enter the country; while others require an exit visa to leave the country. Still other countries require a transit visa…

…but could the visa process in some countries be hindering growth and causing travel for visitors to be unnecessarily complicated and expensive?

Economic Issues Associates with Visa Policies and Fees

“Governments are deterring business travellers and tourists with cumbersome visa requirements that do little to make their countries more secure”, according to this article from The Economist. “The most sensible response to this surge in demand for short-term visas would be for governments to streamline the application process and scrap the most onerous requirements. But governments are often not sensible about such things. The 26 European countries with a common visa policy — the “Schengen group” — require tourists from India and other developing countries to provide several months’ worth of bank statements and pay slips. Visitors to Britain often have to fill in a ten-page application form, including details of every trip abroad for the past ten years. Business travellers to India must provide two references. Mexico has scrapped a rule requiring visa applicants (including women) to submit a description of their moustaches. But in 2016 America will start requiring visas for some travellers who currently do not need them — if, for example, they have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan in the previous five years.”

“South Africa’s new visa requirements could cost the economy about 7.5 billion rand ($540 million) a year in lost tourism revenue and should be revoked immediately by the government”, according to this article written by Liezel Hill for Bloomberg Business. “The number of air passengers under 18 years of age travelling to and from the country fell 50 percent year on year in June and July due to a requirement to carry an unabridged birth certificate” which was aimed at reducing child trafficking.

The new regulations have had a severe impact on a major economic sector in South Africa, with those who are opposed to them calling on the deputy president of the country to abolish the regulations before any more economic damage is done. According to this article written for Thomson Reuters, officials of the government heeded the call: the new visa rules for South Africa became easier for visitors with children and those from India, China and Russia as a result of the aforementioned drop in the number of tourists.

Europe has also felt the pain: A Smarter Visa Policy for Economic Growth is a report from 2014 by the European Commission which estimated that overly-strict visa rules and restrictions probably cost the economy of the European Union an estimated 250,000 jobs and €12.6 billion — approximately $13.8 billion — per year in lost output, leading to the recommendation requiring fewer documents from applicants; handing out visas with longer duration periods; and simplifying the entire process altogether.

However — with the current refugee crisis — that plan has been temporarily set aside; and talk of actually tightening restrictions has been considered as a result, according to this article written by Leo Cendrowicz of Independent, which suggests that the passport-free Schengen zone in Europe may be coming to an end as it “is facing the biggest test of its two-decade existence after Sweden re-imposed controls on visitors crossing from Denmark across what had been one of most open borders in the world” and with other countries following suit.

Egypt — a country which currently desperately needs tourist dollars — considered tightening restrictions last year on obtaining a visa prior to travel as opposed to upon arrival to the country; but has since abandoned those efforts with no word on renewing them.

Good News Regarding Visa Openness

“According to UNWTO’s latest Visa Openess Report, the share of tourists requiring to obtain a visa prior to travelling continues to decline and is at its lowest level ever”, according to this press release from the World Tourism Organization, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations. “In 2015, 39% of the world population could travel for tourism without obtaining a traditional visa prior to departure as compared to only 23% in 2008.”

Interestingly, emerging economies continue to be more open than advanced economies. According to the aforementioned report, Southeast Asia, East Africa, the Caribbean and Oceania remain the most open areas at the regional level; while Central Africa, North Africa and North America were the most restrictive subregions in 2015 — which probably does not come as a surprise for visitors of the United States.

“Prioritizing travel facilitation is central to stimulating economic growth and job creation through tourism. We are pleased to see that a growing number of governments around the world think likewise”, said Taleb Rifai, who is the secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. “The current security challenges should not deter us from advancing visa facilitation. On the contrary, enhancing security and facilitating tourism travel should always go hand in hand. In fact, at a moment when safety and security are top of the agenda for all of us, we need to work closer together to promote a safe, secure and seamless travel environment by using the possibilities offered by technology and international cooperation in data sharing.”

Countries are further encouraged not to depend on reciprocal improvements; but rather revise their unilateral measures, a tendency which is proving to be stronger than ever. Argentina imposed a visa reciprocity fee of $131.00 on citizens of the United States back on Sunday, December 20, 2009. Today, that visa costs $160.00, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States.

Visa Restrictions in the United States Tighten

Speaking of the United States — considered by some to be the most egregious when it comes to the difficulty of securing a visa to visit — “the travel industry is working furiously to push back on any bills they say could restrict millions of travelers coming to the U.S. and have a major economic impact on business and leisure travel”, according to this article written for Fox News.

Concerned members of the House of Representatives of the United States feared that the “current waiver program leaves holes in the nation’s security” and explored new legislation which would limit the current Visa Waiver Program as a result of the discovery that European nationals comprised of most of the instigators in the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris which occurred this past November.

“At stake is the potential for millions in lost revenue, and the potential for lost jobs, as tourists from other countries may choose not to visit the U.S. if greater travel restrictions are imposed.” From what I have heard from friends of mine who are based outside of the United States, this had been already happening for years. I know one person in particular who resides in the United Kingdom who has no plans — or desire, for that matter — to either visit or transit through the United States anytime soon.

Alas, visa restrictions for the United States have indeed tightened under what is known as the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. The key restrictions of travelers who will not be able to enter the United States via the Visa Waiver Program include nationals of countries included in the Visa Waiver Program who:

  • Have traveled to — or been present in — Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after Tuesday, March 1, 2011 with limited exceptions
  • Are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria — meaning holders of dual passports or dual nationalities

The list of exceptions include individuals who have traveled to:

  • Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty
  • Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian non-governmental organization on official duty
  • Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes
  • Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Tuesday, July 14, 2015
  • Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes

…and Now Back to Brazil and Its Problems…

Photographs and videos of children ganging up on innocent victims to mug and rob them of jewelry and other valuable belongings in broad daylight do not exactly help entice and promote tourism to Rio de Janeiro — especially for the Olympic games this year.

“The violent phone and jewellery snatches were filmed by a local businessman who tired of hearing cries for help from mugging victims, placed a camera in his office window on the corner of Avenida Rio Branco — one of the city’s main arteries — and Avenida Nilo Pecanha”, according to this article written by Gerard Couzens for the Daily Mail. “The footage — recorded between mid-December and January 4 — was passed to local news station RJTV which broadcast it to try to shame city police into taking more action.”

The recent outbreak of the Zika virus also has not exactly helped matters either for Brazil. There are concerned people who will not visit Brazil — even if there was no cost or restrictions for obtaining a visa — because they now consider Brazil one of the countries not safe to visit due to the prevalence of the Zika virus.

Similarly to Egypt, Brazil has also been struggling with its economy. Political crises and corruption continue to plague Brazil, according to this article pertaining to the depressed economy in Brazil becoming more depressing which was written by Kenneth Rapoza of Forbes: “Economic forecasts in Brazil are chipping away at the country’s GDP this year, and next year is starting to get cut down to size as well.  According to the weekly Focus survey by Brazil’s Central Bank, 2016 will herald a depression-era contraction rate of 3.8% this year instead of the previous estimate of 3.5% made by dozens of Brazilian economists at the big banks. Next year is already starting to look less exciting. GDP growth for 2017, once forecast to growth at 0.6%, is now seen growing at 0.5%. The mood remains dour.”

However, the depressed economy in Brazil could be good news for you, as it is a country to which you can visit potentially inexpensively while simultaneously helping its economy.

Summary

Although one can understand why a country would want to impose restrictive visas on visitors for various reasons — keeping track of them while they are in that country; as well as to have a revenue stream — they do stand the chance of losing out on the economic benefits of the dollars of tourists and business people when the process of securing that visa is unnecessarily complicated and prohibitively expensive. Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Russia are three countries which immediately come to my mind when it comes to the hassle of getting a visa; but Brazil has been known to not exactly have the easiest or least-expensive process either.

Hopefully, the waiving of the visa fees in Brazil this summer will significantly help to improve its economy — and perhaps lead to the possibility of having that visa fee waiver become permanent instead of temporary as a result.

Countries which have such restrictive visa policies can indicate to potential visitors that they are not friendly countries; or perhaps they just do not want for outsiders to visit for whatever reasons — and yes, there are people who view the United States in that manner as well. In today’s “shrinking” world primarily due to technology, that is a potentially costly mistake. Restrictive visa policies may scratch the “tip of the iceberg” pertaining to greater issues within certain countries; but they do not help in promoting being part of what should be a peaceful global community.

By reducing — or, better yet, eliminating — the fees to secure a visa for a visitor, the economic benefits could more than make up for it. That $160.00 per person for a visa to visit Argentina could instead go towards patronizing businesses and other areas of the general economy, which in turn would increase tax revenues for the government as one of many benefits. As evidenced by some of the aforementioned articles, charging exorbitant visa fees can actually do more economic harm to countries in the long term than help them.

At the very least, countries should do whatever is possible to strike a realistic balance in ensuring their security and charging fees to visitors: attempt to have the visa process as easy as possible for visitors to enter countries without compromising on smart security; and lower the visa fees as much as possible — or even consider eliminating them.

Idealistically, it would be nice to see the day where people can travel anywhere in the world with few to no impediments; but with human nature being the way it is, that will not happen anytime soon — if at all…

…but at least the world is getting closer towards that goal — even if it is only at a glacial pace…

For a limited time this summer, you can visit places in Brazil — such as Iguaçu Falls — without having to pay for any fees associated with obtaining a visa. Photograph ©2005 by Brian Cohen.

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