Business Unusual

Passports could be so much better than they are now

From the Africa Visa Openness Report 2016

African Heads of State will be the first to receive a new African Union e-passport making travel in Africa much easier. The plan is to expand the travel document to also facilitate the movement of goods, a particularly onerous undertaking through the continent. The plan is to allow for visa-free travel throughout Africa for African residents by 2020.

A brief history

While a document offering safe travel dates back to ancient times the current version takes its name from a medieval document allowing travel to towns and cities with gates. The document would list which gates or ports, as they were known then, the traveler was permitted to pass. Sea ports did not require documents.

Not much has changed really.

There are a few options to evolve the paper document. Different countries are testing the various options.

e-Passport

These have an electronic chip embedded in them making them harder to forge and easier to verify at entry points. They contain bio-metric information about the user which could be facial recognition, Iris recognition or fingerprint recognition. The system would allow contactless reading of the details of chip and a scanner would confirm the person matches the information held on the chip.

Because no contact is required the entry points could be managed automatically. Should there be an issue the person could be re-routed to an immigration official. Depending on how the passports are made, they could easily be issued to last longer than the current maximum of 10 years.

If stamps and other markings could be avoided, filling the passport would also no longer be an issue.

e-Visa

A big issue with issuing visa’s that need to be pre-approved is that the passport - and often the person using it - needs to physically present themselves to a specific venue for the processing. This is both time consuming and inconvenient. An e-visa is not actually placed in a passport. It uses an electronic record to say that a passport holder has been approved for entry.

This means that the application can be made online and the visa issued without needing the actual passport. Some countries issue visas at the port of entry which is better, but still time consuming and even more inconvenient if the person is rejected.

The best is to do away with visas altogether, at least for tourist visas. But making business travel and, even more importantly, trade easier is the ultimate goal.

The challenges

Not all countries have the ability to issue the highly secure e-passport limiting the ability to easily implement e-visas or scrap them all together.

It is also not only a logistics issue. Political relations between countries determine the likelihood they would readily accept visits from potential rival states.

The technology to make the transition is currently available, the political will and bureaucratic ability to deliver on it will present the greatest challenges.

The current state of travel in Africa for Africans

  • 55% need a visa to travel to another African country.
  • Only 9 countries offer e-visas. 95% of travelers to Rwanda use an e-visa.
  • Only 13 countries offer easy or free access to other Africans.
  • South Africa is ranked 35th on the continent and considered fairly closed for easy travel - a visa is required by 75% of African countries.
  • Only the Seychelles is truly open and allows all Africans to visit visa free.

From the Africa Openness Report 2016

Also listen to the audio below.

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