Your Visa Has Not Been Granted
Blog posts have become few and far between recently. There’s a lot going on! This post is a must-write for me, since it’s got both real-world effects and personal bummers. The story of a tourist visa gone wrong…or not even existing at all.
Last week, my brother Ryan, a foreign service officer in Shanghai, was to fly in to visit on Friday. On Thursday, rampant rumors we’re spreading about Baku, saying things about people not being able to get visas longer than seven days, and having to pay fines or risk banishment from Azerbaijan for up to five years as penalty for overstaying. Then at the end of the day Thursday, other rumors started spreading about travelers without visas would not be able to get them at the airport. No more tourists coming in and getting an on-arrival visa. Unfortunately, my brother was going to be one of those people. I called him Thursday to let him know that a distinct possibility of getting denied his visa was arising. We decided he would get on the first leg of the trip, from Shanghai to Urumqi, and we would update our plan from there.
Friday morning in Baku came and went. Foreign passengers into Baku came, but they didn’t go anywhere. Their passports were collected and they were stuck in the airport all day, awaiting deportment. Despite talking with various embassy staff and Peace Corps contacts, there was no way my brother was getting in. I called him in Urumqi to deliver the news.
Without a visit from the brother, this has been a little less interesting of a week, but you get this news story from Eurasianet:
The closure of the visa service at Baku’s international airport has many observers – not to mention frustrated travelers – scratching their heads. Reasons for the change remain unclear, with some observers proffering hypotheses ranging from bureaucratic whimsy to a desire to restrict international scrutiny of the country’s November 7 parliamentary elections.
Starting on October 15, Baku’s international airport will no longer issue visas on arrival to foreign citizens, a source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Consular Department confirmed to EurasiaNet.org. Instead, foreigners traveling to Azerbaijan will need to submit a letter of invitation to a local Azerbaijani embassy. The date coincides with the launch of the official campaign period for the parliamentary election.
Speculation is all over the place, mostly because Azerbaijan isn’t so great at communicating intentions to anyone. I will posit, however, that while the curiosity of it being close to the election time seems sketchy, but loses it’s heft as a rumor because this change is supposed to be permanent. And from what I’ve heard, no election monitors have had problems getting visas or into the country. At least, not yet.
The most bizarre part about it is that this certainly goes against any principles of increasing tourism in Azerbaijan. I can’t imagine that having expensive, short-term visas that are difficult to obtain will do anything to increase tourism. Do these people realize that? Do they also realize that one of their stated goals for economic development is increasing tourism? Rough stuff, guys. Try again.
I think my favorite quote about why this was done comes from the unnamed Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative:
The purpose is that the president ordered the changes.