Friday, March 6, 2009

The Visa Guy: The Inside Scoop on the Global Economy

While most parents of autistic children and children with other special needs spend a lot of time directly involved with their children's needs or thinking about their needs or worrying about their needs, we still have other things going on in our lives. For me, my work causes me to travel quite a bit. This is a note about one of the funner aspects of that travel.

Being citizens of the US, we have the privilege to travel to many foreign countries without needing to obtain a visa beforehand. Not everyone has that luxury. Although there are still many countries that require US citizens to obtain a visa, such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and several others, that number is much smaller than for the citizens of other countries.

To many, getting a visa is a nuisance; an impersonal transaction of paperwork and passports. For example, people who work in big companies go through a dull and impersonal experience. The person requiring the visa hands his or her passport and paperwork to an administrative assistant who takes care of the details. A few days or weeks later, the passport is back with its shiny new visa inside. Voila! No fuss. No muss. These poor people are really missing out and they don't even know it.

For those who work in smaller companies and live in a city with a consulate, the experience is at the other end of the spectrum. They have to go to that country's consulate, wait in line and see first hand the process each country pursues for giving visas. They get to witness the bureaucracy in action. This is far better than the impersonal approach but it's a narrow experience. It's only one country at a time. I like my process better.

Me? I got a guy. I show up with my passport and paperwork and he takes care of everything. On top of that, he's very interesting. When I have to get a new visa, I always take my time and chat with him. Since he handles visas for all countries, he has the inside scoop on everything "visa". He knows what countries are hot, which are not and everything in between.

If you're wondering:

- China is not as hot as it was but is still steady.
- India's not hot at all (a few year's ago it was smokin' hot).
- Brazil is hot.
- Several countries in Africa are red hot.

I learned things about Africa I never knew. For one, it's becoming a big exporter of flowers and food. One country in particular has a very strong flower export business to Europe. I tried to do the math of the logistics costs in my head. I don't know how it's economical to grow flowers in one country and send them thousands of miles away but then again, I'm not the guy. He is.

The food story surprised me. He kept referring to 'whole food' but I didn't make the connection. He mentioned that there are many fertile parts of the continent that are suitable for farming. Since none of them are in developed areas, none of them have ever experienced fertilizers and pesticides. Then it hit me. He's talking about "whole food" as in healthy food. It made perfect sense to me. Africa could be poised to be the healthy food grocery store to the world.

If you're traveling to a country that requires you to get a visa, don't let somebody in your office take care of it for you. You should get a guy and learn things.

Disclaimer: I have no idea if any of this is actually true but it did turn what would have been a very dull fifteen minute transaction into an entertaining one.

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