Is a visa to England, Canada or the United States a golden ticket to paradise? Are you suddenly part of an advantaged group the moment you acquire a visa? There are those who believe so and for some it may be true. For others, having a visa is not a priority; they are not caught up in the fantasies travelling to places like North America and Europe generate in some.
There was a time when the restrictions placed on travel to certain countries baffled me. In my innocence, I used to ponder on the fact that Earth belongs to all of us, yet we cannot travel freely to some places. Motivation and intentions are interrogated, making so-called lands of opportunities impenetrable for many who would never meet the requirements.
The opportunity to travel is wonderful. A person who travels is exposed to different cultures; their experiences may create a more balanced worldview and open-mindedness. Acquiring an immigrant visa might mean that one is exposed to opportunities one might not have in the country of their birth. There are many stories of Guyanese who would have migrated and done great things. Their success might not have been the same had they remained in Guyana. But there are also many people who migrate and make little of the opportunity to develop themselves. Instead, they fall into the habit of people with limited or no goals and who never really do anything to improve their lives.
Then there are people with non-immigrant visas who also feel that they are also part of a privileged group. Although they cannot legally take up residence permanently, some may feel that they have achieved a goal which many others could not; folks who some time ago would have never imagined traveling to places a visa affords. Like the woman I refer to as “Aunty,” who proudly boasted about having acquired a ten-year visa. With great excitement, she proudly declared that she was one of the “chosen.” The people around her had to know that she had, in her mind, “arrived.” She could travel to the United States of America whenever she pleased (at least for the next ten years).
Though I found the episode hilarious, the flamboyance and boastfulness that came with her declaration reminded me that many Guyanese still view having a visa (even a non-immigrant one) as a golden ticket. Perhaps part of the reason that idea exists, is because of a time when it was very difficult to acquire visas; a time when people would have lied about assets, jobs, or income, fasted and prayed, or tried to pass bribes or resort to whatever other desperate acts they needed to, just to acquire a visa. There was a time when many Guyanese with non-immigrant visas would have been travelling to and fro, only to stay and become an illegal immigrant when the visa would have expired. The term illegal immigrant bothers me. Again, it goes back to my initial thoughts about the Earth belonging to all of us. Being made an illegal immigrant leaves one in a kind of a prison. Many people would have missed important events in the lives of relatives and friends because if they travelled they would not be able to return.
In recent times, it seems like acquiring a visa, especially to the United States, has gotten a lot easier and many Guyanese are able to traverse back and forth. The visa for many provides an escape, if only for a little while. A change of scenery can do wonders for the soul and for many, who would have never seen such bright lights and tall buildings like one sees in places like New York City, it is fascinating.
But it is no secret that all over the world challenges are being faced. The rule of life for most people remains that to succeed one must work hard. Most of us do not inherit riches.
Nevertheless, it always seems that we are more hopeful when we decide to travel to foreign places; even places in the Caribbean. We are more hopeful that we are going to succeed. And perhaps it was the same hope that those indentured labourers who came to these shores in the 1800s had. This land probably held the key for many of them to achieve their dreams. How easy they thought it would have been is another question. Though it was sugar cane that brought them to these parts, many of the conditions they were made to work under were not sweet. Many could not adapt and died, and for a time they suffered cruelty at the hands of plantation owners. But they had a choice; many chose to return to their homeland at the end of their contracts, while others stayed and made here their home. Some purchased lands from their African brothers and sisters who did not come willingly as indentured labourers but were in fact enslaved. British Guiana became an amalgamation of cultures, which birthed a proud Guyanese nation.
Can we compare and say that many Guyanese face similar struggles to what indentured servants would have faced when they migrate? Many leave Guyana with dreams and hopes of a better life but the ease with which they believe it would come is quickly dismissed once they reach their destination. One must become acclimatised, often face harsh conditions where they fall, but must rise repeatedly to succeed. And some plan to return home to spend their later years.
Could Guyana once again become one of those destinations where masses will come to see their dreams fulfilled? Could a visa to Guyana mean a golden ticket to paradise? Asians and fellow South Americans are coming every day and setting up businesses. But with the discovery of oil, one must wonder: Who else will see Guyana as a land of opportunity, and will they come in droves?