I am applying for tourist visas for the first time, and thought about what the process discloses about the host country. The visa application form for Vietnam is straightforward: name, birthdate, address, employer, purpose of visit, dates of entry and exit, and contact in Vietnam “if any.” It’s a single page document that can be downloaded in Word format. It makes no health inquiries, and requires a photograph of the applicant.
China’s visa application seeks all that and also asks if the applicant suffers from HIV/AIDS, “Mental Diseases,” tuberculosis, leprosy, or venereal disease. China also asks for one’s occupation and includes a box in that section for “Staff of Media.” Under “Major Purpose(s) of your Visit(s)” China asks if the applicant is seeking entry as a “Resident Journalist” or a “Journalist for Temporary News Coverage.” The multiple questions about journalistic intent suggest great concern about how the country is portrayed. The itinerary of the trip must be disclosed in detail. It is a two page document in .pdf format that can be filled in on-line and printed. Photo required.
Russia’s is a dense two page form that must be filled out by hand. It asks for all the above and then some, including spouse’s name and place of birth. Also:
• Your father’s full name
• List your last two places of work, excluding the current one
• List all educational institutions you ever attended, except high schools
• Do you have any specialized skills, training or experience related to fire-arms and explosives or to nuclear matters, biological or chemical substance?
• Have you ever been involved in an armed conflicts, either as a member of the military service or a victim?
The Russian form has the feel of an application for a very unsavory job.
For comparison purposes the US tourist visa process for citizens of Vietnam, China and Russia requires a mandatory interview with embassy consular officials in the applicant’s home country. During that interview “an an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan” is taken. The application form is only available online, and is accessed from the applicant’s computer or at an embassy. A digital photograph must be uploaded to the State Department server. I haven’t logged in at state.gov to study the form but the Q&A makes it clear that the process is onerous:
Q: Have any new questions been added?
A: Yes. For example, the Form DS-160 now asks for the applicant’s social security number and driver’s license information, detailed information regarding previous visa applications, the full name and immigration status of all immediate relatives in the United States, and includes additional security-related questions. In addition, all applicants are now required to answer citizenship and passport-related questions previously listed only on the Form DS-157. (The DS-157 is a supplemental application form with additional security-related questions, and is required of all male applicants between the ages of 16 and 45. Some consulates require all applicants to submit a Form DS-157).
It’s all very sleek and high-tech but the process for obtaining a US tourist visa, if required, takes between 30 and 60 days, far longer than the times required for Vietnamese, Chinese or Russian tourist visas. The Department of Homeland Security’s involvement in the application processing may account for the lengthy timelines.