Saturday, December 15, 2007

Italy Refuses Visa; Sings Aria of Disappointment

Let this be a lesson to all nations including America - if you close your doors to foreigners: immigrants and visitors - prosperity is unlikely to come by. In India there is a saying that roughly translated means "Unexpected guests bring prosperity", and it seems that whether you believe in the elephant god Lord Ganesha or not, the saying is true.

I went to the Italian consulate last year to obtain a visa and was summarily refused even the opportunity to submit my papers because there were only 8 days left for my trip and they require good 30 days notice. Now, I am not aware of too many businesses that can predict all their sales opportunities more than a month in advance - I would assume that there is in fact a Chi-square like distribution (yes, like the one in all the Long Tail diagrams) with most visitors being last minute travelers. At the same time, Brazil, Mexico and Taiwan all provided a visa in less than a day. Not only was my visa refused, the visa staff was rude and unprofessional. I was really keen to visit Italy and build business relationships and spend time (and money) as a tourist.

So today's New York Times article on Italy In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment did not come as a surprise.
But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself. The word here is “malessere,” or “malaise”; it implies a collective funk — economic, political and social — summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.
And co-incidentally on my flight to India, I sat next to a 25-year old beautiful Italian woman, Aastha - a second generation immigrant born in Italy to Indian parents. She is now studying design in London and has no intention of returning to Italy but probably work either in London or other growing markets. She told me that she was not sure Italy had room for growth. This is not good for a nation that has the second highest ageing population in Europe when you are immigrants start leaving. The New York Times article suggests that the same is true for native Italians.

Back home, we may be able to learn from this. The United States, as it struggles with the immigration issue in this election cycle, could be at a make or break point for its future. Are we going to stay open to the Aastha's of the world or are we going to sing a country song of disappointment in 20 years?


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, why did you require a visa?

Two things jump out at me, the first being that Italy's love affair with socialism may be a bigger drag on the economy, and coupled with the fact that Italy has the lowest birth rate in all of Europe, foreshadows what is in store for the rest of Europe as the population gets older and the tax burden falls to a smaller segment of the economy.

Insofar as the U.S., control of one's borders is the most fundamental right of sovereignty. Few people outside the AFL-CIO seriously talk about curtailing immigration, but it is beyond dispute that a very large percentage of Americans wish to curtail one form of immigration, illegal.

The post-9/11 overreaching of immigration controls is beginning to rationalize, and while it is not a necessary tradeoff, sacrificing border security in the name of immigration is not acceptable.

Unknown said...

Italy requires visa from United States permanent residents and from nationals of various countries. It also does not participate in the Schengen visa that made it easy for me to visit Belgium and Netherlands.

Treating guests well is not the same as having people just show up in your kitchen. I agree with you on the need for a system of immigration, not chaos. I am for controlling the borders through enforcement of laws and rationalization of immigration laws and requirements. Let American citizens decide the fair rules and let's make everyone play by them.

Anonymous said...

I was curious about this, did a little research and found that many of the EU countries require a visa, for example, Germany would also require you to get a visa. Norway takes 6 weeks to get an appointment...

Given that travel to China requires a visa for U.S. citizens, and for non-regular travelers it takes up to 6 weeks to get a visa, it would be incongruous to link economic prosperity to visa rules.

Sorry to hear about you experience on this matter.

sig said...

Anshu, what can I say but arghh. And, bureaucracy is another word for stupidity.

But if once inside the Schengen area (not UK, but otherwise most of the EEA) you should be able to travel freely, no border controls any more. Or does the visa say you must stay put in say Belgium?
If you're able to get into France I'll personally smuggle you over the Italian border :-D

And dinner's will be on me so we can gloat together.

And Jeff has a point of course, just get me and Dennis into a bar and you'll hear no end of stories of, well, old world quirks.

Anonymous said...

Hi - you clearly haven't experienced the 'joy' of applying for a visa to the US from a non-European country, like South Africa. For a start, you have to schedule an interview with a consular official, so they can check you out first.

Unknown said...

Actually, I did have the pleasure of doing that a few times from a third-world embassy in India which meant standing in a queue outside the gate of the embassy for a few hours just to get in. Yes, its not fun.

The US has one peculiar problem though - security concerns - that don't plague other nations as much. I think very few countries do a good job of treating the visa applicants well. This is the reason I think countries like Taiwan and Brazil that do this well need to be emulated by others to the extent possible.

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of surprised, as I have applied for an Italian visa under similar circumstances - Indian passport with a Green card. I got my visa (twice) within 5 days or less.

You need to get an invitation letter from the company to be visited, and when I explained my need for urgency it worked. I was similarly trying to close a deal at a Fortune 100 company. Yes, they were bureaucratic and somewhat prudish, but I was able to get my job done and they helped me even after the consulate hours were over. So I am surprised..

And when I last got my visa, a Schengen visa got you across Western Europe. Maybe things have changed..

Anonymous said...

"It also does not participate in the Schengen visa that made it easy for me to visit Belgium and Netherlands."

This is not true. Italy is very much part of Schengen visa system. Infact I traveled to Italy last week with a Schengen visa that I got from German consulate.

Anonymous said...

if the women is beautiful, then she should have the right to go anywhere, but lets say she is not a looker, i say stop her and make sure she doesnt get her visa.

Anonymous said...

There is a key difference to be noted here regarding immigration: Most debate in US is about the immigration of illegal variety. Most debate about immigration in Europe is about simply immigration....people different from the dominant local ethnicity.
Given my experiences in dealing with consulates of european countries, I am convinced that none of them individually or collectively will ever pose a threat to US economic dominance.