Thursday, March 06, 2008

Well, at least Marta is happy: she's got her new puppy somewhat sooner than she was supposed to.


I'm well aware that we are not the first ones to get a kick in the ass, nor are we the last ones, unfortunately.

Most of the visa trouble stories I remember have to do with the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, and they are pretty old.

There was one guy from Cherkassy, for example, who almost got a rejection stamped into his passport - because there was a person with the same first and last names on the embassy's "black list" - and they initially hadn't bothered to check his patronymic and date of birth as well, despite the fact that his name was a pretty ubiquitous Ukrainian name.

There was also a friend who had received very good education in the States and was about to start on a very good internship, but something got into her and she decided to come back to Ukraine for about a month, to see her family and get a new passport, but then she was grounded, because the embassy wouldn't re-issue her a visa. She's one of the brightest people I know, so she's doing very well in Ukraine now and is free to travel anywhere she likes, including the United States. But some of the heartbreak she and her family had been through because of some silly fart at the consulate deserves being described in a short story or something.

To be fair, I've never had any problems with my visas so far, mashaallah, but my case isn't too typical because I've only been traveling to Turkey since around 2001. But I do know plenty of people in both Russia and Ukraine who travel a lot and for whom everything has been going very smoothly.

And there are, of course, all those reverse visa stories: our labor migrants, zarobitchany.

I've just done a quick search, and here's one of the relevant stories in English, a 1-year-old BusinessWeek reprint from the Transitions Online - How Labor Migration Is Changing Ukraine, by Kerstin Zimmer:

[...] In contrast, labor migration to the countries of the European Union receives much more attention, thanks not only to its considerable extent but also to its distinct features and relative novelty. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry estimated several years ago that about 300,000 Ukrainians worked in Poland, 200,000 in Italy, up to 200,000 in the Czech Republic, 200,000 in Spain, and 150,000 in Portugal.

In all these countries, they have only limited opportunities to work legally, despite some recent legal changes, legalization campaigns, and intergovernmental agreements. [...]

Labor migration isn't just about visa violations, of course - it's an extremely complex issue, and the BW/TOL piece does deal with that.

But if you look at it from a very narrow - and slanted - perspective, it suddenly begins to appear as if zarobitchany are a more privileged class of travelers than mere tourists like Mishah. Which is an awful generalization, of course. And it would be wrong to generalize it even further by arguing that the law-abiding citizens who end up having their vacation plans screwed should blame their enterprising and not always honest expat compatriots for it.

Anyway, what's truly upsetting about it is that the silly visa regime prevents some of us from thinking of foreign travel as something natural (buy a ticket, book a hotel, pack and go ahead) - and it also fails to justify its existence by more or less failing to prevent illegal labor migration.

Though, the latter, perhaps, is only natural - no one would bother trying to squeeze through the borders to work as nannies and cleaning ladies if there were no demand.

It's horrible to think about it this way, but Kuchma's prostitution-in-Italy analogy, cited in the BW/TOL piece, seems to work at some level - even though he probably meant it literally:

[...] Several years ago Ukraine's then-president, Leonid Kuchma, referred to Ukrainian women working in Italy as prostitutes. [...]


  1. In general, I've been thinking there needs to be a UN convention on the rights of travellers and the behavior of border guards or something. From the story of the Icelandic woman being put in a jail cell for several days in New York for having overstayed on a previous visit, to having personally been brought to panic and tears by the Russian registration requirements on several occasions, to watching my Russian friends be denied visas arbitrarily, traveling or even just trying to do so can be a completely dehumanizing experience. There has got to be a better way to prevent terrorism and monitor migration than terrorizing people who just want to travel.

  2. Post-soviet bureaucrats just think that they are the most important people in the world. Regretfully. Wait till Russia gets strong courts and starts suing those bastards.


    I wrote a recent contribution in TOL about how the European Neighbourhood Policy is failing because of Schengen expansion. The EU's main policy instrument for the eastern countries intends to open borders, but Schengen does the opposite. Honestly, the Finns, Italians, etc. are not too concerned. Now that the Poles are in the club, they care less as well.

    US citizens now need Schengen visas for staying longer than 90 days. My wife had to fly back to the US from Poland to get a visa just to legally be here (she's not working or studying).

    Of course this is a lot better than the requirements put on Ukrainians traveling to the US or EU. The fact that Poles, Hungarians (and Ukrainians) need visas to the US is bullshit, but the way the EU treats Ukrainians like third-class Europeans is even more deplorable.

  4. But my point is, it's not just Russia. It's everywhere, especially my American motherland. The attitude everywhere seems to be, "This is our border, we can treat foreigners however we want." There's just no reason to treat tourists like that, and I'm sure it doesn't dissuade terrorists.

  5. Yeah, at least you didn't wind up in a shit-hole "family prison" in Texas like the poor Iranians in this article. Really shameful.

    Still, it sucks. Reminds me of when Sasha and I got kicked out of a stinky hotel in Kazan' because they didn't know how to handle his passport from the "near abroad."


  6. Oh how this strikes a chord... After three weeks of worry, Federal Express today delivered my passport with the Ukraine visa I was seeking. It was a big relief. At the same time, I continue to be frustrated at the US Consulate in Kyiv, and their mess-up of Valya's visa request after two meetings to try and explain things. I am so sorry for Misha and his Finnish experience.

  7. I wonder whether the key word is supsicion or contempt...but in any case it is unbearable.

    In 2006, Goncourt Laureate Tahar Ben Jelloun, who is Morocco-French, was to deliver a keynote speech in an American University. Getting out of his plane, he was locked in a room with 6 youngsters of "ethnic origin". When he tried to speak in their name, a custom servant insulted him. Terror fight...

    In our world, capitals and dirty money travel freely. Asian sweatshops produce cheap items so they can be shipped to any part of the world. But human beings should stay were they are...


  8. I'm sorry for Misha's visa problems, and also sympathise with the offended in the other stories quoted here. But I'm not surprised. There are some basic truths you all have to understand, and then some. Immigration is a huge political issue in the west. The regulations are constantly changing and getting tougher. You must understand that, apart from the intentions of post-Soviet residents, there, for instance, are massive numbers of Latinos entering the US, and post-Empire relatives wanting to enter Britain. And, all the while, the EU is expanding, releasing many more free immigrants to the richer parts. It is a known fact that you must enter Schengen through the main destination. So it behoves everyone wanting to make the journey to spend a lot of time reading the regulations, and learning from dedicated discussion forums. Generally, any rule-breaking or casual disregard will not be tolerated. Any mistakes may well disqualify you on future travel ventures, as the databases are expanded.

    I'm sorry, but that's how it is.

  9. Ah, those "basic truths"... One of them is that most people would rather pay less than more - and would work for more rather than for less. That's sort of universal, though what's a lot for some is too little for others, and vice versa.

    As for the ever-expanding databases, the fact that Mishah is now probably in one of them says a lot about their efficiency.

    Perhaps, a good place to start not tolerating "any rule-breaking or casual disregard" would be way inside the country, not at the border. Make sure you not only locate and expel all those millions of the illegals who are already there, but also impose fines on all those millions of your own citizens who've been lured into using cheap labor.

    Good luck.

  10. As a previously regular traveller to Kyiv, and now to the North Caucasus, and the making of friends therein , it has been a considerable frustration that I am unable to invite friends to the UK, unless my intention is marriage! Yet I'm able to visit relatively freely.

    A considerable problem regarding Ukraine, and a more liberated access to the EU is that Ukraine itself is the corridor of choice for many migrating from points East, and appears unable to prevent access from Russia, though I believe that work is proceeding to strengthening the border.

    Meanwhile, may I say that I greatly enjoy this blog which adds a wonderful human dimension to the general news from the region.

  11. The irony of the situation is that most of the "many migrating from points East" are making it to the EU, not me, who only needed (not even wanted-needed) a very short trip.