Travelling to other countries, apart from being fun, can also be eye-opening. Encountering new cultures, people and experiencing different countries have the tendency to deepen one’s understanding of others and can facilitate mutual respect for all peoples. Different people, however, have different reasons for travelling – some to seek greener pastures and others for pleasure. However, there are restrictions to travelling around the world, Ghanaians need visas to enter most countries of the world, including in Africa.
Ghanaians do not need visas to enter any of the other 14 ECOWAS countries. There are some countries including Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Rwanda with whom Ghana has reciprocal visa deals and therefore Ghanaians do not need visas to enter these countries.
There are other countries like Ethiopia and Swaziland where Ghanaians can get visa on arrival. It is however advisable to always double-check with the Embassy of the country you intend to visit before you embark on the trip.
Anytime you visit any Embassy, High Commission, Consular Office of any country in Ghana, you are likely to see a large number of people, mostly Ghanaians sitting or waiting in line to submit their visa applications, or pick up their passports or other documents. But most of the people you will meet, including at the sub-contractors offices – the visa application centres accepting applications on behalf of some of the Embassies and High Commissions, have intentions of travelling outside Ghana for different reasons.
While some will be granted visas, others won’t get it, and among those refused the visas are some who have become ‘career visa applicants’ – these are people who keep trying, no matter how many times they are refused.
While for instance the US Embassy in Ghana says it issues 15,000 visas a year, it doesn’t give the number of applications and number of rejections.
The United Kingdom doesn’t also say how many applications it receives, but the Ghana High Commissioner in London has been quoted elsewhere saying, about 40 per cent of Ghanaian applicants for UK visas are refused.
In 2018, Schengen Embassies, High Commissions and consulates in Ghana received 43,955 visa applications, issued 25,262 visas and denied 19,197 applications. The Netherlands Embassy received the highest number of applications – 18,720, granted visas to 10,928 of those applications and refused 7,649.
The South African visa application centre is one of the places where you are likely to see a lot of Ghanaians queuing to apply for visas to that country. Number of visas issued or denied couldn’t however be found.
I have come across people who have been denied visas to South Africa and Ethiopia.
But are there any tricks to making successful visa applications? Can anyone offer tips on how to make your applications accepted?
There are no tricks to making successful visa applications, only rules and regulations. The decision to grant or refuse visa applications is entirely in the hands of the visa officer and while some factors such as providing false information, can lead to refusal, there are so many instances where people who provide true and accurate information are refused visas, and refusals can be at the whims and caprices of the issuing officer.
Even government officials, including Ministers of State can be refused visas. Some students who have received scholarships to study in some countries have also been refused visas. When visas are refused to applicants, the refusal letter which is included in their application when it is returned to them is a template that the consular official only ticks a specific box indicating reasons for the rejection – which is often baffling. For instance, an applicant attending a meeting which full cost including a return ticket, hotel accommodation and meals have been covered by sponsors is refused for reasons such as he or she “is unable to finance the cost of the trip”.
Before you apply
There are basic steps to follow when you are applying for visas. The first thing to do is to visit the website of the Embassy of the country you intend to visit or that of the visa application centre and get familiar with the requirements for applications. Where possible pay a visit to the consulate and get as much information as you can.
While, the website is expected to have all the requirements clearly stated, let me warn you that some of the websites do not have all the necessary information you need and you should call the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for more information or clarification before you start your application. Some websites for visa applications also do not have updated information, and some Embassies or High Commissions do not have websites.
You should also be truthful with your answers. For instance if you are unemployed, you should state it. If you are an unpaid volunteer too, you should state it – that is the truth. Ultimately, the decision for granting visas lies with the consular officer who must take other factors, and not only your employment status into consideration.
Prepare all the required documents before you start your application. A valid passport, passport photo, return ticket or booking, hotel reservation or evidence of where to stay during the visit, vaccination card or travel insurance where required. You should also have reasons for the visit, such as an invitation letter to a meeting, conference or workshop. If you have obtained a scholarship, provide all the documents related to the scholarship as well as documents showing your economic and family ties to your country. It is also advisable to prepare any other documents, even though not stated in the list of required documents that might strengthen your case.
Types of visas
There are different categories of visas. Countries have their own classifications – and these are all available on their websites.
There are temporary visas such as transit or airside visas, tourist visas, conference visas, business visas, work visas, student visas, journalist visas and family visits. There are also visas that allow for permanent move to the country of choice, such as immigrant visas and spousal visas and so on.
Cost of visas
The cost of applying for visas have become exorbitant, especially with the introduction of sub-contractor visa application centres. In addition to the normal visa fee that goes to the country’s consular office, applicants pay processing fees to the centres, and sometimes the processing fees are higher than the visa fees, for instance, the cost of processing South African visas in Ghana are higher than the actual visa fees, and all these fees are non-refundable. The fees won’t be refunded when the visas are refused and or when the applicant cancels or withdraws the application.
Holders of some categories of passports such as service or diplomatic passports are exempted from paying visa fees in most instances. In special circumstances, some countries instruct their consular offices to issue visas without cost to applicants. An example was during the 2018 AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands government issued visas for free to all participants, and during the 52nd Session of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, in Marrakech, Kingdom of Morocco in March, the government issued the visas at no cost to participants.
Guests of the US government from Ghana, do not also pay for visas issued by the Embassy. But guests of the UK government normally would make payments because they apply through a private contractor, but the High Commission usually refunds the amount.
Why is your application denied?
There are several reasons why an application may be rejected. But sometimes, there are no reasons at all as in many cases, consular officials evidently seem to be arbitrary with some of the decisions.
And if you submit false or fake documents with your application, you increase your chances of rejection and possibly criminal prosecution when you are found out. I have a feeling that most applicants won’t agree with this position – that they should be truthful.
Use of ‘Connection men’
While the Embassies, High Commissions and consulates continue to deny that middlemen known as ‘Connection men’ facilitate visa applications for prospective applicants, the phenomena exists.
Only last week while at the Passport Application Centre for some business, I met this young man, I suspect he isn’t even Ghanaian who was at the centre for his business. We chatted while we all waited for our turns. He told me about how ‘Connection men’ facilitate visa applications for people.
“Are they able to get visas for people?” I asked. “Yes. They do,” he said. He however, said it takes time, because they have to do it at certain times. “They have to do it at the right time and so it can take a long time and you have to pay heavily for it and depending on which country, you pay more,” he added.
Does a visa guarantee you automatic entry into a country?
A country’s Embassy, High Commission or consulate may grant you a visa, which primarily gives you a right to enter the country, but an immigration officer at the border can refuse you entry, or your visa can be cancelled for whatever reason at the point of entry.
Some countries also state exactly what the visa allows you to engage in while in the country. For instance in the South African Visitors Visa the purpose for the visa is printed among others in it; “Each visit not to exceed 30 days. For training, conference or workshop purposes. Must hold onward/return ticket”. On the UK Visitors Visa it is written “No work or recourse to public funds”.
These clearly stated purposes must not be violated. If violated, could affect applicant’s future chances of getting approval to enter the country another time.
Extension or reduction of duration of stay
An immigration officer or the country’s Interior Ministry also reserves the right to either reduce the duration of your visa, extend your stay or even upgrade the category of the visa depending on factors contained in the country’s immigration laws.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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