Multi Country Immigration Agreements and the Effect on Modern Travel
Countries across the globe and grouping up into regional zones, federations — dare I say, teams. There are more of these regional treaties across the world than I care to count, many have acronym titles such as FTAA, ASEAN, CARICOM, OECS, OSCE, SAARC, or names that say it all like the African Union, the Andean Community of Nations, the Arab League, the Association of Caribbean States, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Francophonie, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the Pacific Islands Forum, there is even an Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.
The teams of the world are being picked and countries are drafting themselves into political and economic affiliations with other countries. The political world map is no longer only drawn by individual countries, but by leagues of regionally assembled nations.
Where border countries once fought each other into oblivion for economic and political might, they now drop their borders and join together into regional units.
Read more at Word Comes together to Divide
Many of these agreements aim to drop the intra-regional borders between member countries and remove tariffs on trade: these agreements are often made so goods can cross borders cheaper and easier.
But there is a backlash for the world traveler that comes on the heels of these agreements: with the dropping of borders for the transport of goods, borders for individuals are also being laxed or even dropped.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? A world with less borders should be pay dirt for the traveler, but, as this movement is currently being played out, it is not.
Along with no, or laxed, border control for the transport of goods and the movement of citizens within the member states of these agreements come singular immigration policies for the region as a whole. Where a traveler once had to get a passport stamp or visa at each international border, now they only need to go through immigration when entering into one of these regional zones and then they are free to visit all of the member countries on a single visa.
Sounds good, right?
As it is being played out, the length of stay for travelers entering into these zones is drastically reduced — the visas given to tourists to enter into these multi-country zones is not the sum of their former parts. I will explain:
There are now two major regions for travel that have come together and created a multi-country immigration zone. One is the Schengen Zone of Europe, the other is the CA-4 of Central America. When entering into either of these zones, you are given a single visa good for all of the countries, it is only a pity that these visas are only good for 90 days of travel.
Schengen Zone Overview
Among the most onerous of these political “zoning” initiatives for travelers has been the Schengen Zone of Europe. Currently, 25 (soon to be 27) European countries are part of the agreement, and they have dropped their internal borders. Citizens of this region can now travel freely from Iceland to the Ukrainian border, stay for as long as they want, and work. This agreement is great for EU citizens, it is not so good for foreign travelers.
Now when entering the Schengen Zone the traveler is given one visa that is good to visit all of the member countries. It is only a pity that they have only 90 days to do so. After these 90 days are up, the tourist must completely exit the zone for at least 90 days before returning. So that is 90 days for 25 countries, or 3.6 days in each.
Read more at Schengen Visa on Travel Help
Travelers formally received around 90+ days for each country in Western Europe, and visit runs to neighboring nations were quick and simple. USA, Canadian, Japanese, Australians, and travelers from nations with class-A passports could once live and travel in Europe almost indefinitely, now they get 90 days out of every 180.
How do you travel across the bulk of Europe in 90 days and experience much of anything? This is the question that the modern traveler must ask themselves as the world grows together just to split apart. In this world, the stop sign is being put up in front of long term travelers and expats living as perpetual tourists — you can visit, sure . . . but not for too long. This is a move which limits the amount of contact that people from various parts of the world can have with each other — I have received piles of mail from people who are in deep relationships with Europeans but have no idea how they can stay with their loved ones in lieu of these immigration policies.
Many travelers overstay their Schengen visas with nearly complete disregard. This was once an alright move, as few countries within the region would prosecute foreigners with class-A passports. But times have changed, there is a pan-regional computer database (the SIS) which logs in travelers as they come into the region, and this information is available for any immigration official in the 25 countries of Fortress Schengen as they now bust visa overstayers left and right. The typical penalty for overstaying a Schengen visa is a 3 year ban from the entire region and a possible fine
European xenophobia does not mess around.
The CA-4 Agreement of Central America
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua have likewise teamed up and created a free trade/ immigration zone known as the CA-4. Similar to the Schengen zone, when a traveler enters this region they are typically given a 90 day pass that is good for all of the countries. In a region where a traveler once received 90 days for each country — with visa runs easy to do — you now get 90 days for all four.
Read more at CA-4 Visa Explained
The restrictions on extensions and visa runs vary for each country, but for most you have to exit the zone completely — to Belize, Mexico, or Costa Rica — for at least three days before returning. Guatemala will still grant extensions for a moderate fee, El Salvador doesn’t, Honduras will sometimes not honor an extension made in Guatemala, and I do not have enough information to comment on Nicaragua. Honduras will also only allow a traveler to make three visa runs out of the region before they are banned for an unspecified amount of time, but the other member states seem to allow for a virtually unlimited amount of visa renewals by exiting the region — but you now need to go all the way to Costa Rica, Mexico, or Belize, rather than just over the next border.
In point, it is still possible to live and travel extensively within the CA-4, the region is not yet as strict as the Schengen, but this immigration agreement shows a general trend that I predict will overtake the globe: regions are going to team up into trade/ immigration zones and will offer travelers short duration visas to visit all of the member countries.
The Future of Travel in the Regionalizing World
I can easily imagine a world where all of the countries of Southeast Asia group up into a single immigration zone, just as I can envision this happening in West Africa, Andean South America, Central Asia, and maybe even some parts of the Middle East. The world is growing together into regions which stand at drastic odds with other regions, and the world of travel is changing.
If these multi-country immigration zones offered travelers 180 day to one year visas on arrival to explore and experience the various countries of their region then I would call these agreements politically beautiful things. But they don’t. These immigration zones that are popping up around the world seem to breed xenophobia and an iron clad insider/ outsider type of regionalism. While the individual nations of these zones are growing together and the various cultures are free to congeal, the message is clear to outsiders: come, visit quickly, spend money, then leave, we don’t want you to truly experience this place, we don’t want you to get too close to our people. As an Orwellian prediction blossoms to life, the world is dividing itself up into massive political entities that are primed to stand at odds with each other as the globalization trend begins to truly manifest itself.
As borders drop between countries huge fences are being erected around regions. I see this being played out in relation to international travel, but I fear that it could someday be played out with pan-regional armies.
Multi-country visa agreements are doing their part to exterminate long term travel