A visa is a conditional authorization granted by territory to a foreigner, allowing them to enter, remain within, or to leave.
It may include limits on the duration of the foreigner’s stay, areas within the country they may enter, the dates they may enter, the number of permitted visits or an individual’s right to work.
In each instance, a visa is subject to entry permission by an immigration official at the time of actual entry and can be revoked at any time. A visa most commonly takes the form of a sticker endorsed in the applicant’s passport or other travel documents.
Sources of information regarding visa requirements based on the Passport you hold:
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Immigration officials are empowered to permit or reject the entry of visitors on arrival at the frontiers. If permitted entry, the official would issue a visa, when required, which would be a stamp in a passport. Today, travellers wishing to enter another country must often apply in advance for what is also called a visa, sometimes in person at a consular office, by post, or over the internet. The modern visa may be a sticker or a stamp in the passport or may take the form of a separate document or an electronic record of the authorization, which the applicant can print before leaving home and produce on entry to the visited territory. Some countries do not require visitors to apply for a visa in advance for short visits.
Visa applications in advance of arrival give countries a chance to consider the applicant’s circumstances, such as financial security, the reason for travel, and details of previous visits to the country. Visitors may also be required to undergo and pass security or health checks upon arrival at the port of entry. Some countries require that their citizens, as well as foreign travellers, obtain an “exit visa” to be allowed to leave the country.
Some visas can be granted on arrival or by prior application at the country’s embassy or consulate, or through a private visa service specialist who is specialized in the issuance of international travel documents. These agencies are authorized by the foreign authority, embassy, or consulate to represent international travellers who are unable or unwilling to travel to the embassy and apply in person. Private visa and passport services collect an additional fee for verifying customer applications, supporting documents, and submitting them to the appropriate authority. If there is no embassy or consulate in one’s home country, then one would have to travel to a third country (or apply by post) and try to get a visa issued there.
Types of Visas
Transit visas such as Airside transit visa, Crew member, steward, or driver visa.
Short-stay or visitor visas. For short visits to the visited country. Many countries differentiate between different reasons for these visits, such as:
- Private visa
- Tourist visa
- Visa for medical reasons
- Business visa
- Working holiday visa
- Athletic or artistic visa
- Cultural exchange visa
- Refugee visa
- Pilgrimage visa
- Digital nomad visa
Long-stay visas. Visas valid for long term stays of a specific duration include: Student visa, Research visa, Temporary worker visa, Journalist visa, Residence visa, Asylum visa.
Immigrant visas. Granted for those intending to settle permanently in the issuing country (obtain the status of a permanent resident with a prospect of possible naturalization in the future):
- Spouse visa or partner visa
- Family member visa
- Marriage visa
- Pensioner visa
Official visas. These are granted to officials doing jobs for their governments, or otherwise representing their countries in the host country, such as the personnel of diplomatic missions.
By the method of issue
On-arrival visas. Countries that issue visas or permits on arrival for all arriving visitors, also known as visas on arrival (VOA), they are granted at a port of entry. This is distinct from visa-free entry, where no visa is required, as the visitor must still obtain the visa on arrival before proceeding to immigration control.
Electronic visas. An electronic visa (e-Visa or eVisa) is stored in a computer and is linked to the passport number so no label, sticker, or stamp is placed in the passport before travel. The application is done over the internet, and the receipt acts as a visa, which can be printed or stored on a mobile device.
Entry and duration period
Visas can also be single-entry, which means the visa is cancelled as soon as the holder leaves the country; double-entry, or multiple-entry, which permits double or multiple entries into the country with the same visa. Countries may also issue re-entry permits that allow temporarily leaving the country without invalidating the visa.
Once issued, a visa will typically have to be used within a certain period of time. Once in the country, the validity period of a visa or authorized stay can often be extended for a fee at the discretion of immigration authorities.
Entering a country without a valid visa or visa exemption may result in detention and removal (deportation or exclusion) from the country.
Even having a visa does not guarantee entry to the host country. The border crossing authorities make the final determination to allow entry, and may even cancel a visa at the border if the alien cannot demonstrate to their satisfaction that they will abide by the status their visa grants them.
Some foreign visitors sometimes engage in what is known as a visa run: leaving a country—usually to a neighbouring country—for a short period just before the permitted length of stay expires, then returning to the first country to get a new entry stamp in order to extend their stay. Despite the name, a visa run is usually done with a passport that can be used for entry without a visa.
In general, an applicant may be refused a visa if they do not meet the requirements for admission or entry under that country’s immigration laws. More specifically, a visa may be denied or refused when the applicant:
- has committed fraud, deception, or misrepresentation in his or her current application as well as in a previous application
- has obtained a criminal record, has been arrested, or has criminal charges pending
- is considered to be a threat to national security
- does not have a good moral character
- has previous visa/immigration violations
- had their previous visa application(s) or application for immigration benefits refused and cannot prove that the reasons for the previous refusals no longer exist or are not applicable any more
- cannot prove to have strong ties to their current country of nationality or residence
- intends to reside or work permanently in the country she/he will visit if not applying for an immigrant or work visa respectively
- fails to demonstrate intent to return
- fails to provide sufficient evidence/documents to prove eligibility for the visa sought after
- does not have a legitimate reason for the journey
- does not have adequate means of financial support for themselves or family
- does not have adequate medical insurance, especially if engaging in high-risk activities (e.g. rock climbing, skiing, etc.)
- does not have travel arrangements (i.e. transport and lodging) in the destination country
- does not have health/travel insurance valid for the destination and the duration of stay
- is a citizen of a country to which the destination country is hostile or at war with
- has previously visited, or intends to visit, a country to which the destination country is hostile
- has a communicable disease, such as tuberculosis or ebola, or a sexually transmitted disease
- has a passport that expires too soon
Even if a traveller does not need a visa, the aforementioned criteria can also be used by border control officials to refuse the traveller entry into the country in question.
The main reasons states impose visa restrictions on foreign nationals are to curb illegal immigration, security concerns, and reciprocity for visa restrictions imposed on their own nationals. Visa restrictions may also be imposed when nationals of another country are perceived as likelier to be terrorists or criminals, or by autocratic regimes that perceive foreign influence to be a threat to their rule.
Some countries apply the principle of reciprocity in their visa policy. A country’s visa policy is called ‘reciprocal’ if it imposes visa requirement against citizens of all the countries that impose visa requirements against its own citizens. The opposite is rarely true: a country rarely lifts visa requirements against citizens of all the countries that also lift visa requirements against its own citizens, unless a prior bilateral agreement has been made.
A fee may be charged for issuing a visa; these are often also reciprocal—hence, if country A charges country B‘s citizens for a visa, country B will often also charge the same amount for country A‘s visitors. The fee charged may also be at the discretion of each embassy. A similar reciprocity often applies to the duration of the visa (the period in which one is permitted to request entry of the country) and the number of entries one can attempt with the visa. Other restrictions, such as requiring fingerprints and photographs, may also be reciprocated. Expedited processing of the visa application for some countries will generally incur additional charges.
Government authorities usually impose administrative entry restrictions on foreign citizens in three ways – countries whose nationals may enter without a visa, countries whose nationals may obtain a visa on arrival, and countries whose nationals require a visa in advance. Nationals who require a visa in advance are usually advised to obtain them at a diplomatic mission of their destination country. Several countries allow nationals of countries that require a visa to obtain them online.
Some countries that allow visa on arrival do so only at a limited number of entry points. Some countries such as the European Union member states have a qualitatively different visa regime between each other as it also includes freedom of movement.
Visa exemption agreements
Possession of a valid visa is a condition for entry into many countries, and exemption schemes exist. In some cases, visa-free entry may be granted to holders of diplomatic passports even as visas are required by normal passport holders.
Some countries have reciprocal agreements such that a visa is not needed under certain conditions. Other countries may unilaterally grant visa-free entry to nationals of certain countries to facilitate tourism, promote business, or even to cut expenses on maintaining consular posts abroad.
Some of the considerations for a country to grant visa-free entry to another country include (but are not limited to):
- being a low security risk for the country potentially granting visa-free entry
- diplomatic relationship between two countries
- conditions in the visitor’s home country as compared to the host country
- having a low risk of overstaying or violating visa terms in the country potentially granting visa-free entry
Normally, visas are valid for entry only into the country that issued the visa. Countries that are members of regional organizations or party to regional agreements may, however, issue visas valid for entry into some or all of the member states of the organization or agreement.
Blank passport pages. Many countries require a minimum number of blank pages to be available in the passport being presented, typically one or two pages. Endorsement pages, which often appear after the visa pages, are not counted as being available.
Vaccination. Some other countries require vaccination only if the passenger is coming from an infected area or has visited one recently.
Passport validity length. In the absence of specific bilateral agreements, countries requiring passports to be valid for at least 6 more months on arrival. Other countries require either a passport valid on arrival or a passport valid throughout the period of the intended stay. Some countries have bilateral agreements with other countries to shorten the period of passport validity required for each other’s citizens or even accept passports that have already expired (but not been cancelled).
Criminal record. Some countries, including Australia, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand and the United States routinely deny entry to non-citizens who have a criminal record.
Persona non grata. The government of a country can declare a diplomat persona non grata, banning their entry into that country. In non-diplomatic use, the authorities of a country may also declare a foreigner persona non grata permanently or temporarily, usually because of unlawful activity.
Several countries mandate that all travellers, or all foreign travellers, be fingerprinted on arrival and will refuse admission to or even arrest travellers who refuse to comply. Many countries also require a photo be taken of people entering the country. Together with fingerprint and face recognition, iris scanning is one of three biometric identification technologies internationally standardised since 2006 by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for use in e-passports.