Visa Regime: The main problem of 2020 was by far the global reaction to Covid-19, and there is the prevailing belief that in some way, 2021 will automatically be different because one figure in the year has changed. The world expects all of this to “end.” But perhaps the main question shouldn’t be when the Coronavirus problem ends, but how it will end. This health crisis, like all others, is the catalyst for political change. It has already left a bureaucratic trace in history.
The potentially most interesting -or terrifying it is the case to say – systemic change brought about by the virus would be the beginning of a sort of mandatory vaccination to travel. This concept, unthinkable just a year ago, has been treated by the mainstream media both positively and negatively, with some governments already verbally endorsing it.
Currently, the main form of bureaucracy for international travel is the citizenship-based passport. The proposed idea of allowing only vaccinated individuals to travel will essentially create the need for a second passport -regardless of the definition attributed to it – based on vaccination documentation. Therefore, since this new documentation proving vaccination will essentially function as a passport, we should look at the passports’ geopolitical aspects before examining those of vaccination.
The regime of passports and visas throughout the 20th century became the mirror of national power and created its own bureaucratic geopolitical spaces. If we look at the Global Passport Power Rank 2021, we see surprisingly top-ranking nations are not in the West. The choice of using the word “power” in the description of passports is very relevant. For example, US citizens can visit Bulgaria and Serbia without a visa, while Serbs and Bulgarians have to go through the bureaucracy, taxes, and talks necessary to have the privilege of stepping on American soil.
While many Bulgarians may think the United States is an ally that saved them from Communism, there are plenty of Serbs who today regard Washington as the killer of the people but still give Americans 90 days to stay in their country without asking questions.
On the contrary, and unlike many European nations, the Serbs allow Russia thirty days for business or holidays. Very often, traditional allies of a Nation can enjoy visa-free entry. Speaking of Russia, it is not surprising that many small nations that Russia recognizes, unlike America, allow Russian citizens to enter without a visa (South Ossetia, Abkhazia, etc.). Furthermore, as Russia’s influence increased after its total defeat in the Cold War, her passport has steadily increased its “power.” Visas and passports can reflect the strength of a nation or its proximity to power when its citizens can go almost anywhere while at the same time blocking entry to the less important.
If we have to live in a world where vaccination will be mandatory to travel, who tells us that every nation on Earth will recognize other vaccines’ validity? According to media reports, it appears that vaccination confirmed by some documents should be sufficient, but this is unlikely. The BBC has already spoken of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 with some scepticism. We can believe many British politicians may choose not to recognize the Russian vaccine’s efficacy.
On the contrary, whether we like it or not, Russian citizens will only have access to the vaccine created by the Russians. You will have the choice to do it or not, but getting Pfizer’s American one will require effort, patience, and much personal expense. Then, it will be very complicated for Russian citizens to obtain a vaccine from a foreign competitor.
They will have to under the Sputnik V camp, from a bureaucratic point of view. In reality, there seems to be almost a vaccination rush as nations compete to develop and export their vaccine first. It could be a matter of national pride or humanitarian interests, but it could also be a matter of willingness to provide your vaccine to as many nations as possible.
Likewise, all Russian citizens with Russian passports will be placed in one large group. In the case of a vaccine passport, all people treated with Sputnik V or Pfizer will be in a similar travel category. If this is indeed happening, then surely the race is underway to secure as much of this intangible new geopolitical space as possible.