Obtaining a Visa in the Era of “Beyond Aid”

In the world of fake news, this long but very true read on document fraud in Ghana caught my mind over the long weekend.

The thriller-like article by Yepoka Yeebo was published in the Guardian and argues that document fraud for visa applications represent a vicious circle because if more suspicious applications are submitted, additional checks are put in place by adding required documents. And the more tedious the application, the more room for so-called “connection men” to carry out their business. The more people who provide fraudulent papers or overstay their visas, the harder visa applications are scrutinized…

In my research on student migrants, I have come across conversations pointing to how difficult it is to obtain visas, or get one’s application “bounced” as the students say, even for university students, a group which should be desirable labor migrants by the Global North.

However, I have also been puzzled by the open advertising of visa “help”, which also suggests visa applications really are an industry, as discussed below:

“In 2010, as the number of fake travel documents continued to rise, Ghana’s government founded the Document Fraud Expertise Centre, which verifies documents for embassies, banks and the police. It’s the only one in West Africa, which reflects the sheer scale of Ghana’s shadow visa industry. In 2016, about half the documents submitted to them for testing turned out to have been forged.”

Importantly, this long read contextualized the issue well, added the quite central fact that an application fee for instance for a United States visa is USD 160 (or about GHS 700 or 75% of a median Ghanaian salary). The fee is, of course, non-refundable, and you can get denied at any point without recourse. Still, as an individual, if you see little hope for the future where you are, you might still decide to apply…

…and on a macro level this issue kind of came up when French president Macron passed through Ghana last week. In a meet-the-press setting, Ghana’s president Akufo-Addo re-stated his “beyond aid” agenda and exclaimed,

“We want young Africans to stay in Africa [audience applause], we have to get away from this mindset of dependence!” See the full inspired response by president Akufo-Addo below which has been much discussed on social media.

Just words? Well, taxes are being collected in Ghana as never before. Free SHS has been rolled out. Development partners are already leaving Ghana as it is classified as a middle-income nation and hence not a priority. But the jobs? Yeebo reminds us in the article that only 10% of Ghanaians have a salaried job and outside the American embassy, a queue has formed since the early morning. Out of the Ghanaians waiting there, a majority will not get their visas this time either.

This article has been on my mind ever since I read it a few days ago. If you want to understand the entangled and yes, dependent relationship, between the Global North and the Global South (both directions!), I suggest you read it too.