The Germany Consulate in Boston has deemed me unworthy of a visa to journey to Hamburg this week to present a paper at an international conference. Their reason? Apparently, my financial resources are insufficient to sustain me for the duration of a brief stay in their country.
The irony lies in the argument they’ve presented – that I would not be able to afford sustenance in Germany. It is a paradox born of a visa application process that mandates payment of all travel expenses, excluding food. These encompass return air tickets, conference fees, travel insurance, visa fees, BLS couriers, and hotel bookings – costs that become non-refundable in the event of a denied visa. In my case, I had already invested $2200 in these expenses, now regarded as a loss.
However, the labyrinthine nature of expenses isn’t the sole hurdle. There exists a formidable stack of documents – a PhD dissertation’s worth – that the visa application demands. This dossier includes letters from employers, pay slips, recent bank statements spanning three months, an original passport, a passport photo, a copy of my US Green Card, a copy of my driving license, invitation letters, conference details, proof of payments, and the list continues. Even if God were a mortal, they would probably ask for a letter from Him.
Nonetheless, the focus of this piece isn’t the comparison of food prices between Hamburg and Boston, but rather to spotlight a troubling norm: the unapologetic discrimination by Europeans against holders of African passports.
Despite juggling multiple teaching engagements and freelance writing assignments, it is driving for Uber that forms the cornerstone of my family’s income. I am aware that it might not be deemed an honorable profession, and I can almost visualize the visa officer’s reaction to my application, accustomed as they are to handling documents from CEOs, managers, politicians, investors, engineers, and doctors. It was evident that my Uber earnings, reflected in pay slips amounting to $2000 a week, were met with skepticism. To substantiate my earnings, I submitted Uber annual tax slips, revealing an income exceeding $100,000 a year—by American standards, a moderate income. In comparison, US teachers earn up to $57,000, and it’s doubtful a teacher’s Germany visa application would face such obstacles. This undermines their argument, revealing it to be a pretext, and brings us to the true reason behind my visa denial.
But before delving into that, let’s reflect on the income-visa paradox. How much must one earn to be considered wealthy enough to enter another country? Why isn’t the accepted income threshold transparently shared with the public and applicants, enabling informed decisions before hotel and air ticket reservations? Should wealth manifest as pay slips, bank statements, property revenues, or something else entirely?
African Passport Holders.
The visa officer undoubtedly knew I wouldn’t be starving in Hamburg or abandoning my life and family in America to fend for myself in Germany.
The issue at hand lies in the persistent European attitude towards Africans and Black individuals—a mindset that hasn’t evolved much from their ancestors who enslaved and colonized us. The handling of today’s migrant crisis exhibits eerie parallels with the history of the slave trade. The doors of Europe only opened for physically robust Africans during slavery, as they fueled the continent’s capitalism. Today, the doors are open only for the immensely wealthy elite or puppet dictators who facilitate the exploitation of Africa. Those left outside are left to perish in the sea, reminiscent of the sick and weak who were thrown overboard during the days of slavery.
This attitude stems from the fact that Europe has always sought Africa’s resources but not its people. Valuables like gold, lithium, and coltan navigate European waters more safely than African individuals. A hypothetical scenario: if Europeans were alerted to two sinking vessels – one containing migrants and the other loaded with gold or coltan – which one would they rush to rescue? The answer is unequivocal.
I’ve encountered Africans who advocate for the closure of European visa offices across Africa, viewing them as entities that exploit the meager wealth of the masses. European embassies in Africa collect exorbitant visa fees while rejecting over 98% of applications. These visa officers are trained to turn down any African passport that crosses their desks without verifying the applicant’s legitimacy.
Call It What It Is
The cluster of visa rejections for African passport holders, whether in Africa or the US, stems from a form of discrimination rooted in slavery and colonialism.
Upon arriving in the States, I declined most speaking and presentation opportunities requiring travel, even when TED Talks offered me a fellowship. I chose to present virtually, as I was unable to travel to neighboring Canada. I had hoped that this would change upon acquiring the US Green Card, but it seems that this hope was unfounded. Visa exceptions exist for most Green Card holders, but when you possess an African passport, these privileges are limited. Today, I have the Green Card, yet an African passport denies me the privileges enjoyed by other Green Card holders. I could further delude myself, believing that if I wait another two years, I’ll qualify for an American passport and be able to travel freely. However, it’s likely that my skin color will continue to be a source of discrimination. Should I then pursue the path of changing my skin color, à la Michael Jackson? What should be the limits to our aspirations for acceptance and the assumption of privileges enjoyed by others?
As Africans, it’s high time we push back against these discriminatory policies to the best of our abilities. Sharing stories of unjustly restricted travel could serve as a starting point. On a brighter note, the conference organizers have granted me the opportunity to present my paper virtually. I invite you to visit the conference website and join me this Friday at 9am (EST) to continue this discourse.