I am wasting enormous energy lately in an absolute nightmare of visa applications. The insolence of office is to be seen in its most extreme forms, everywhere around the world, in those connected with the organised atavism of immigration control. I was chatting with a charming young lady, one of those wealthy young women who pass a brief season as interns and personal assistants before marriage to some dull heavy jowled banker. She was on her seventh visit to the Indian High Commission visa office, each time being sent back for reams more documents, which are nowhere asked for in the official guidance and checklists.
The British are even worse. The very experienced chief engineer on the electricity project I work on in Ghana, a man with engineering degrees from the UK and US and substantial international experience, was refused a visa to visit the Siemens factory in Lincoln from which we have bought over £13 million of British engineering exports so far. I genuinely have no idea why this baffling decision was made.
The British and Indians have one thing in common – they have both privatised their visa handling process out to profit making companies who employ cheap and unqualified labout to accept, sift and pass on the applications. The lady who had been sent back six times had got nowhere near an immigration officer. Experienced immigration officers still exist, locked away in back offices being fed trays full of less straightforward decisions, made a great deal harder to cope with as they have never set eyes on the applicant. I have line managed one of the biggest British immigration offices in the world, before the processing was privatised, and the best immigration officers never forget you are not granting entry to a pile of documents, but to a human being. The look in the eye is worth a thousand sheets of A4.
We have of course a similar experience to look forward to in the NHS, as the government decides that the profit motive rather than the desire to heal and to relieve pain is the best way to motivate a health service. This will, inevitably, result in de facto triage by sixteen year olds with no fixed contract and paid on various government job subsidy schemes, while the Tories will get a whole new raft of billionaire donors from our taxes, and private health insurance booms among the middle classes. This is the inevitable and highly predictable result of the government’s current NHS plans, and if the process is not stopped will be the situation come 2017.
To return to visas, added to the apparatus designed to reinforce fear at the airports, just moving around our world has changed from a great pleasure to a total misery. Within my lifetime, we have allowed state control over the individual – as a worldwide phenomenon – to intrude to the point where people have little more free will than farmed animals. The quality of life for the majority of people has declined, is declining and appears set to continue to decline. Meanwhile an elite super rich get richer and are free from any kind of restraint at all. The control of a stupefied population appears not in the least difficult.
Sometimes I despair.