Divide and Conquer: Why harsh visa policies are a bad idea

Passport inspection

US officials gave no reason for denying entry to a British Muslim family who wanted to visit Disneyland. It was the nightmare situation that everyone secretly fears as they prepare to travel: The family was stopped from boarding the plane at the airport, even though their trip had been previously approved. They were left holding their bags and forced to turn home. It was embarrassment for the parents, but heartbreak for the children denied the chance to fulfill their dream vacation.

The US is not the only country that is restricting travel, though. The UK has reportedly been denying visas to Pakistanis by the thousands, and in a truly heartbreaking story, the family of a Pakistani man was denied visa to Australia to visit their dying son. In this case, at least a reason was given. Officials said they were not convinced the family would return to Pakistan.

This may offer some hint as to why Pakistanis are being refused visas to Western countries. Think about the timing compared to recent statements by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar declaring Pakistan will not allow migrants to return. There is also the recent case of Tashfeen Malik who entered US on a K1 visa also known as “fiance visa” and concerns that Western authorities were not giving visa applications a hard enough review. The discovery of a large group of women supporters of Daesh in Karachi will only add to the suspicion.

The same cannot be said for Westerners who want to visit Pakistan. Last year Interior Ministry adopted a new policy that all Westerners must submit to clearance by intelligence agencies. Short of denying all visa requests, this is surely the strictest way to limit visitors. We should ask ourselves if we would be happy to submit to investigations by CIA or MI5 agents before being allowed to New York or London.

All of this is backwards. We complain that Westerners think of Pakistan and Muslims as extremist and violent and that they do not know how we really are, but we make it almost impossible for any Westerners to come here. If we want easier entry to Western countries, we should give Westerners easier entry to Muslim countries. Instead of submitting Western tourists to intelligence agencies, we should be promoting tourism that would showcase the real Pakistan, not the terrible ‘Homeland’ version that most Westerners only know. Then regular Americans and Britons and Pakistanis and everyone else would know that they had nothing to fear from each other, and the extremists would not be able to easily divide good people.

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