Protecting The Right to Travel

Before we entered the digital era, the travel process was often a painful one. Countries around the world required different documentation for entry, each of which had its own unique application processes. Information on what was needed was hard to come by, and it was often difficult to know if a visa was even required ahead of travelling, let alone apply for it. This first hurdle in the travel process was solved by the Passport Index by Arton Capital, which became the first ever centralised aggregator of visa information in 2014. The tool made it simple and easy for anyone with an internet connection to see what they would need to travel, using their passport.

Once you had overcome the first obstacle, and finally understood whether a visa would be needed, the painstaking process continued with the application process. Would-be travellers were required to trek to out-of-the-way embassies armed with a myriad of documentation just to apply for the right to travel. Painfully long queues in embassies were just the start of an arduous application process. Waiting times for approvals would often exceed weeks or even months. Today, most countries have started to offer electronic travel authorisations or e-Visas to streamline this process and facilitate global mobility.

Despite the huge benefits of the new technology, its application to the visa acquisition process has brought risks along with it. New visa scams are manifesting that see criminals posing as visa consultants or agencies. When playing this role, they offer to assist individuals with their applications for a fee. Faster processing times and guaranteed approvals are promised, often supported by seemingly legitimate websites and savvy telephone operators.

Visa lottery scams, fake travel agencies, and phishing emails represent other facets of this problem. The money lost in this manner is just the tip of the iceberg. E-Visa applications require applicants to submit their e-mail addresses, passport data, and often credit or debit card information. If this data is given to unverified visa services, it’s possible for this to be stolen and placed on the dark web for sale. There is a very real risk for applicants to have their identities stolen in this way, with their whole worlds turned upside down in the process.

The easiest way to avoid this is to make sure any website you’re accessing is trusted and legitimate. Users should always double check the URL to make sure that it’s as they expect. On any website where you make a purchase, there should be a ‘trust seal’ anywhere that payment is required. Verify the legitimacy of this by clicking on it – you should be taken to the seal provider’s website where the website’s approved status will be confirmed.

Now, even if travellers take this advice and manage to avoid these fraudulent visa schemes, they may still encounter problems. Due to the process’s unfamiliarity, many prospective travellers are unaware of what is now required to acquire an e-Visa – consequently, many websites offering legitimate visa services tack on high administration fees that far exceed what is actually required to enter a country.

Those who look to opportunistically profit in this way disincentivise people from traveling or working abroad, as they are deterred by the prospect of losing their hard-earned money. This has real, human consequences. Last year, tourism and travel contributed to 7.6% of global GDP, with many countries around the world highly dependent on the travel industry. For example, the travel sector contributes more than 20% to the total GDP of Croatia, Montenegro, and the Maldives – to name just a few countries. By failing to deal with visa scams head-on, we do not only rob holidaymakers of new experiences, but we also rob locals of the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Travel hotspots, like those mentioned above, require a dynamic workforce. Working visas allow labour shortages in seasonal industries and regions to be filled. This drives economic growth across countries and continents. Over 15% of workers employed in Portugal, Serbia, and Spain were defined as temporary employees in 2020. On top of this, these working visa programs draw talent from across the globe, promoting intellectual diversity in the workforce, with many inspired to seek permanent residency in their newly found home away from home.

How can we ensure that would-be migrants, workers, and holidaymakers do not fall victim to these scams? Vigilance and patience are key in this process. It’s important to take the time to verify the legitimacy of visa offers and services by contacting government agencies or embassies directly. Furthermore, caution must always be applied when paying upfront fees or sharing personal information, especially to unknown or unverified entities.

Despite the individual’s responsibility to keep themselves safe from scams, governments must also take the lead in raising awareness of these scams to protect the integrity of their immigration systems. Public awareness campaigns need to take place, screening and vetting processes should be enhanced, and laws and regulations strengthened.

The introduction of technology that simplifies the visa application process for travellers is also a key step to ensure that travel and tourism around the world continue to flourish.  Ample inspiration can be drawn from the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) that is set to be introduced in 2024. The software is set to become an entry requirement for visa-exempt nationals travelling to the Schengen Area and is expected to greatly streamline the process for tourists whilst providing the EU with valuable security, migration, and epidemic data.

Similarly, The Passport Index by Arton Capital is taking important steps to counter online fraud. The latest update to the tool implements secure links for every country within its database, directing travellers to verified official institutions. This is the first time that travellers have been provided with a centralised access point to apply for any visa around the world. Users can browse the index with confidence, knowing that the data provided is accurate, real-time, and backed by hyperlinks to trusted bodies. With global mobility at the forefront of the Arton Capital agenda, only the Passport Index provides users with a central hub to help make an informed choice about their visas.

Since the pandemic, the World Openness Score has risen year on year, with people determined to seek new employment and residency overseas. At the same time, online fraud is increasing as people seek to opportunistically profit from the return of travel. While the growing adoption of e-Visas has allowed the travel process to become faster, seamless, and more accessible, it has also contributed to the rising number of scams. With 1 in 5 new jobs created globally because of travel and tourism, there are grave consequences if we fail to prevent dishonest and deceitful visa scams. Government, private industry, and individuals need to collaborate closely to make sure that the digitalisation of travel enables global mobility, rather than hindering it.

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