Why do consulates take away your passport to issue the visa?

  • As far as my passport is concerned, a visa is a (very fancy) sticker.

    Why is it that consulates actually take away your passport and give it back with the visa on it?

    Why not just examine your passport, issue the visa, let you keep the passport, and have you come back so that they can stick the visa onto the passport? Why do they need it in between?

    _Because they can... feel the power..._ I agree. There seems to be no good reason except that they couldn't care less that you need to go without a passport for that time.

    I suspect it's got something to do with wanting to be absolutely sure that they issue the visa for the correct passport that they have approved. It's not enough to simply verify the number; false documents are possible.

    I suspect efficiency to some extent. Probably they have a machine/person doing the physical process and they do a batch at a time while having other duties.

    Likely also due to efficiency, processing the paperwork for multiple people, stickering or stamping all the passports at the same time. A staff person would to stop what they doing and take the time to reverify that it is the same passport originally seen and then look up the visa nunber and type, then affix it.

    In smaller embassies, usually the whole process (receiving, interview if any, processing, and returning passports) are done by the same people. They can not afford to add complication by the process, especially if the process requires extra audits and checks (such as issuing the visas and then in another time sticking them). It's just easier to make it in one step..

    I've actually encountered a case where they let you keep the passport and come back later for the sticker (Uzbekistan consulate in Israel). Also, for Canadian visa applications, the review/application process is also separate from actual visa issuance, they only ask for your passport once most of the decision-making process is complete (and the only thing left is to verify your passport and add the sticker)

    Primarily to streamline. Take a decision and collect all eligible in one place and others elsewhere. Imagine printing(visa printing is different than printing on an A4 size paper) a visa one at a time and sticking it, rather than printing all in one lot and then sticking it in the passports which saves time, like in an assembly line.

    Is everyone commenting instead of answering because they're just not sure, or is there another reason...? I'm confused otherwise.

    People are commenting because they are speculating, or giving counter examples. They don't have a good, clear answer.

    I don't have to apply for many visitor visas, but when I moved to Germany, the official at the Ausländerbehörde printed the residence permit sticker and attached it while I went to pay the fee. When I moved to Finland, the consulate inspected my passport and then gave it back to me, which was good, since they take forever to approve you and I needed it. So they don't always.

    While some comments are speculation, others can be upgraded to viable answers (explain or personal experience or provide authoritative links, etc). If you can promote your comment into an answer, please do!

    From my experience, a part from tourist visa, other visa applications that take longer time to process do not require you to give your passport. I had this with Japanese and German embassy where they just call you and ask you to bring your passport with you in order to put the sticker once the visa was approved.

    A bigger question is why passport stickers are needed at all, rather than fully switching to e-visas, similar to the way ESTA works for the US.

    @JonathanReez I can answer that one. As an owner of a US Visa sticker in my passport, there are many government departments who want to see that visa that have no business being hooked up to the electronic passport system.

    @MarkHenderson but... pretty much anyone can verify an ESTA is valid, as long as they know the owner's name and passport number. Why couldn't visas work under the same system?

  • Gayot Fow

    Gayot Fow Correct answer

    5 years ago

    I can answer this for the UK and Schengen members...

    In the first instance, consulates take your passport because there are some laws involving how a visa is issued. Prominent among those are...

    Paragraph 24, which states...

    The following must produce to the Immigration Officer a valid passport or other identity document endorsed with a United Kingdom entry clearance issued to him for the purpose for which he seeks entry:...

    Paragraph 27, which states...

    An application for entry clearance is to be decided in the light of the circumstances existing at the time of the decision...

    Paragraph 28, which states...

    An applicant for an entry clearance must be outside the United Kingdom and Islands at the time of the application...

    (These rules are all found at Immigration Rules)

    From these it's clear that they need to take possession of the travel document in order to assess its validity. And from Paragraphs 27 and 28 they need to be sure that the conditions of issuance are 'fixed' to a specific date and time. It means that the applicant has not travelled with the passport in the interval between submission and issuance, and (to the extent possible) the applicant is not in the UK when the decision is made. In addition, the Entry Clearance Officer has to assess the application. These things cannot be done 'while-you-wait' and holding the passport helps to guarantee that Paragraphs 24, 27, and 28 are diligently observed.

    There are some practical and administrative considerations that come into play...

    • Those visa stickers are affixed to the passport page by a machine and there's usually one machine per post. The passports need to be sequenced, fed in to the machine, and then checked by a human. This is done as a background task by local hires who may be on shift work in a batch. Trying to arrange a batch according to whoever showed up is administratively impractical.

    • In the UK case, they don't like people hanging around the consulate, they like to make the decision entirely by paper-based evidence (they really do not like to engage the public directly for various reasons not worth going in to here). Moreover, the security is not staffed up for lengthy queues. So they use a VFS to ring-fence the consulate from engaging directly with the public (yes, there are exceptions where they need to see someone but these are not the normal case).

    • In keeping with the above, most of the world is set up to use the Visa Facilitation Service (VFS) as a intermediary, the applicant drops off their stuff and then returns to collect it when they get a notification email. The VFS has no decision-making role and largely acts as a secured courier, so it really makes no sense to have a queue of people hanging around the VFS waiting for a visa to be affixed.

    • In places like Nigeria, the passport and evidence may be sent to their special assessment unit that performs 'deep analysis'. This can take several weeks and it would not make sense to separate the passport from the other evidence during this phase.

    • In the Schengen cases where the applicant must report to the consulate for an interview, it would mean making two trips to the consulate: one for the interview and one to collect their stuff, this is thought to be an unreasonable burden on the applicant.

    • Especially in the British case, there is an overarching cultural influence best called: 'this is the way things work' (TITWTW, 'titwah'). This usually operates as a stand-alone rationale for a lot of things in the UK and visas are no exception. If you encounter TITWTW, the discussion has reached its conclusion.

    • Other answers in the archives here have pointed out that the application location is not necessarily the decision location. Applications submitted in Morocco for example are decided in Croydon (London suburbs). Applications submitted in Kabul are decided in New Delhi (graphic from UKVI presentation). So where would the applicant queue?

    enter image description here

    And as a final note, yes, it's possible for an applicant to have an ECO come around to their house or office, or for an applicant to show up at the consulate on a while-you-wait basis. They are very flexible and will accommodate almost anything you want (I attended the Parliamentary debates on this topic and can attest to the flexibility). I haven't checked recently but the last time I looked, those services started at about GBP 15k and upwards from there. A person can also arrange for a private landing interview at Heathrow (etc) and they will even send someone to small airports like Robin Hood.

    Note: most of the above are stated as UK specific, Schengen members have comparable or similar conditions.

    Note: dual nationals (or holders of duplicate passports) always come up with the corner case: can I apply for entry clearance with one passport and simultaneously enter the UK on my other passport? This is theoretically possible because the IO may not always know that the person has applied for entry clearance using a second passport. But returning to Paragraph 28, if they ever find out that the person was in the UK during a pending application for entry clearance, the person becomes an illegal entrant for that period of time. That will have grave impact if the person ever tries to get another entry clearance or apply for British nationality, etc. So the bottom line is yes, but you are implicitly accepting the consequences.

    In case it goes unnoticed: GBP 15k = GBP 15,000.

    In Germany TITWTW is known as the basic rules of bureaucracy (*Beamtendreisatz*): 1) We have always done it like that. 2) We have never done it like that. 3) Who do you think you are?

    @neo, most excellent! You are invited to edit and add a footnote to this answer with the relevant "Umgang Gesetz" where appropriate, thanks! (and credit yourself in the body)

    "[T]hey will even send someone to private airports like Robin Hood." All passenger airports in the UK have been privately owned since what was the British Airports Authority was privatized in 1985.

    Doesn't `Paragraph 28` refer to the fact that it's impossible to apply for certain types of visas from inside the UK, rather than a ban on travel while the application is pending? At least that's the interpretation of a similar rule for the Schengen area.

    You don't need to be a dual national to get a second passport. In Germany, getting a second passport is standard procedure if you can state a valid reason. Needing to travel while your passport is in processing is one reason. Another would be potential trouble with stamps from one country while traveling to a second (e.g. Israel/Iran/USA).

    @JonathanReez, no, sorry, the restrictions on who can apply for *leave to remain* inside the UK are elsewhere. P28 is about *entry clearance* and the rule is stringently enforced. See also the declaration the applicant is required to sign. LTR applications belong to Expats rather than us.

    @offbyoni, getting a 2nd passport, under any lawful conditions, is fine! You just cannot apply for entry clearance with one and enter the UK with the other while the application is pending.

    @offbyoni What country has a problem with USA stamps in your passport?!?

    Anecdotal reason they don't allow you into the UK consulate/embassy: if you are inside the grounds during the visa issuance, you are breaking Paragraph 28, for consulates/embassies are extraterritorial parts of UK

    @MichaelHampton North Korea?

    @Mindwin Not only does NK not mind having U.S. stamps in your passport, you can enter NK on a US passport. Granted, if they see your hometown is Langley, Virginia or you list your employer as "National Security Agency," then you may have a tougher go of it.

    @MichaelHampton What I meant was that the US has a problem with Iran stamps. They will let you in, probably, but anecdotally they will give you a hard time. Iran and other islamic countries have a problem with Israeli stamps, which is why Israel apparently stopped stamping passports and uses removable stickers instead.

    I don't understand how it follows from paragraphs you quote 'that they need to take possession of the travel document in order to assess its validity'. Actually, at least in Moscow, the UKBA allows applicants to submit some applications without a passport or to call their passports back in cases of delayed decision. It costs some money, but of course nothing compared with the sums you mention. Applicant's having traveled between application and submission doesn't by itself change their circumstances. Actually, in case of, say, businesspeople, it's staying home that may change them!

    "would mean making two trips to the consulate: one for the interview and one to collect their stuff," - wait, isn't this how it works now? AFAIK you always visit the consulate twice.

    @JonathanReez from my view, there is one for the interview and that's it. The stuff is returned by post.

    @ach of course there are visa regimes with procedures where leaving one's passport is not required. But that's not what this question is asking; this question is about visa regimes where leaving one's passport is required. Please examine the hub and spoke image in the answer again.

    @GayotFow, I don't understand you. I am not sure that UK visas for Russia are stamped in Russia (I heard about Warsaw being the place), but even if they are, the decision-making process is often longer than stamping process. The passport will only need to travel for the latter. During the former, it can stay with the owner.

    @ach in that case, neither the question NOR the answer apply to you. As I already mentioned, we're talking about visa regimes that require the applicant's passport; you seem to want to introduce visa regimes that DO NOT require the passport. Why? It's irrelevant here. I suggest reading the question again.

    @GayotFow, I don't want to introduce anything. It was you who tried to explain things on the example of the UK, but I just wanted to say that all your reasoning *in this case* was invalid from the very beginning, that is, from the presumption that UKBA requires the passport to be submitted with the application and stay with the decision-making body all the time pending decision. That presumption, I am sure, is false because in fact the UKBA *does* allow to call passports back (at least in Moscow, and I can see no reason why not in other locations).

    @reirab "you can enter NK on a US passport." Leaving, on the other hand ...

    @Acccumulation haha, yeah, that part can prove more problematic depending on Kim's current mood. Usually you'll be allowed to leave, though, if you haven't committed some terrible capital offense like taking a propaganda poster or failing to properly grovel at Kim's feet...

    @Acccumulation: It is important to recognize that NK's behavior on the international stage is a carefully crafted form of kabuki theater. They will not detain you (or anyone) "just because." Rather, they do so if and when it is in their national interest. In practice, that means people with ties to the Korean Peninsula, high-profile individuals such as journalists, missionaries and human rights activists, and anyone who sufficiently annoys them in a variety of other ways.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM