With so much criticism leveled at the government of South Africa over the canceled trip of the Dalai Lama, it may be interesting to examine the granting of visas in other countries. There are about 40 countries whose citizens do not need a visa to enter South Africa, and Tibet is not one of them. In order to enter Tibet, on the other hand, one first needs to apply for a Chinese visa before arriving in China and then for a permit to enter the territory of Tibet itself.
One country which is notoriously difficult to enter is the USA. The USA probably receives more visa applications than any other country, and there are 36 countries whose citizens may enter the USA without a visa. However, in 2010, the USA issued more than 6.4 million non-immigrant visas. If many applications were rejected, the number of applications is probably much higher than that.
In assessing visa applications, USA officials may try to prevent people from entering the country and then remaining there indefinitely, as illegal immigrants. Another issue is terrorism. Of course, these are issues in any other country, but America has traditionally been both an attractive immigration destination and a target of terrorist attacks.
In recent years the sentiment has been raised that visa applicants with Islamic or Arabic names are being discriminated against by US officials. In 2010, a respected French journalist attached to the office of the French president was not granted a visa while his colleagues were. He had an Arabic name, and he was unable to enter America. A possible explanation for the failure to grant him a visa is that the security database used by visa officials may contain Islamic names which are common and which therefore match to more than one person.
Given the terrible 9/11 terrorist attack on New York city, it is possible that some members of American society view people of the Islamic religion with apprehension. The question then is – if the USA started applying pressure on South Africa to deny visas to such Muslim travellers, whether they are linked to terrorist organisations or are merely firebrand clerics preaching an anti-Western or anti-American dogma, would the South African government agree?
Sources: American Bureau of Consular Affairs