Thursday, May 8, 2014

Travel Woes: Consulate Edition

Massachusetts is a state with much to offer to tourists from foreign lands or neighboring states. However, as of late, residents have been exposed to increased air travel options to support tourism outside of our home state.

Starting with nonstop service to Tokyo with Japan Airlines in 2012 and continuing with the expected nonstop service to Beijing with Hainan Airlines this June. As the Globe has reported, "Logan has 36 international destinations, up from 26 a decade ago; the number of international travelers using Logan during that time has increased about 20 percent." In order to fit the increase in passenger rates, the airport has gone as far as expanding Terminal B. All of these changes, highly supported by Governor Patrick, are commendable but still insufficient.

In order to promote new destinations or encourage residents to visit their motherlands, foreign nations- or the official representatives of a foreign government- must welcome the idea too.

Just a week before a year-long planned trip to Peru is set to begin, a dear family friend, and law-abiding, tax-paying American resident, is still unsure if he will be "allowed" to visit the land of the Incas. At the beginning of this year he visited the Peruvian Consulate to ask for a visa, because he still holds a Salvadorian passport. He was told it was too early to request it, that he should return to purchase it two weeks before his trip.

Fast-forward to mid-April when he did what he was told, but only to receive a rude and discriminatory questioning by the consulate staff. After giving a brief description of his trip, an anniversary gift he is enjoying with family for two weeks, he was asked a series of questions about his job, his income level, his personal relationship status and his non-existent criminal past.

"How much was this trip?" "Who paid for it?" "You don't earn enough to pay for this trip, how can we make sure you won't stay in Peru?" While I understand the necessity of these questions, it is demoralizing and incredible to imagine other interested travelers endure this treatment. It is also hard to believe that consulates truly think American citizens and residents want to enter their respective countries and stay there illegally. 

American citizens or residents are not "better" than other nations at all, so I am not assuming we would not like to go live in foreign countries. What I argue is how real would the possibility of a 20-year resident, in the verge of citizenship, giving up what he has worked for so long, be? This can become a separate post, on migratory woes Americans must experience too, but I hope you can see my point in that a Latin American seen as a danger to visit Latin America by fellow Latin Americans seems senseless. If my friend had committed a crime and wished to escape the U.S., his cover would be a little blown by the fact that he would travel with his spouse, children, son-in-law and friends who are all American citizens and need to return to work after their 2-week vacation too. If the Peruvian consulate thought they were all going to Lima to throw him a grand exile party then I'd be upset I wasn't invited.

Consulates have to worry about drug or human trafficking, tax evasion, and more. It is completely logical. In hopes of appeasing these fears my friend also provided months-worth of bank statements, employee records, even tenancy contracts over three additional visits, only to hear that a Peruvian visa was not a right but a "privilege" people earned and the consulate is unsure if he should receive it. After the two-week ordeal, the consulate did offer him a six-month visa- barely five days before his scheduled departure.

It is very wrong to assume that Massachusetts only has blue passport holders. US Census Bureau estimates for 2012 showed that of the state's population of 6,645,303, 10 percent were Hispanic or Latino alone. A lower rate than the national average but still significant. Significant enough to engage in conversations with area consulates who can help residents visit South or Latin America for personal or tourism purposes. Let's remember, there are also residents from Asia and the Middle East, Africa and Europe who would like to take advantage of these new traveling options as well.

Not only that, if travel to the Middle East and Asia, and perhaps Mexico once again, are lauded as opportunities for people to reconnect or explore and commerce to grow, our local government and leaders must think of the solo traveler and the small business as well, not just the tour groups and million-dollar corporations that face very little if/and/buts to travel, when establishing new tourism business.

Our airport has welcomed the challenge of augmented service. Our state representatives must work with foreign nation representatives in Massachusetts to make sure we can take advantage of them.