The cost of bad reputation

I came across this article on the fact that Japan is imposing stricter visa process for individuals from certain countries, including Vietnam

According to Nikkei Asian Review, Japan will also expand its list of countries subject to stricter visa checks. Currently, only students from seven countries, including China (excluding Hong Kong and other regions), Vietnam, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Mongolia are under strict visa screening processes. Vietnam currently has the highest number of people overstaying their student visas, 3,065 in total.

It is really shameful to see my country included in such a list. Nonetheless, as I have lived abroad and seen actions by my fellow Vietnamese overseas, I am not surprised at all by the new policy from the Japanese government. I saw Vietnamese students take advantage of the trust by Finnish to avoid paying metro tickets. I heard about the distasteful actions by Vietnamese community in Prague and saw first hand how unfriendly a Vietnamese market was in the city. Hell, there is a lot of ambiguity on how much it costs for a citizen like myself to renew my passport. The fees will depend on one’s occupation and income.

The misdemeanor by a few tarnishes the reputation of a whole people. There is a certain degree of unfairness that some have to suffer by the actions of a few, but that’s just how it works. And Vietnamese people do suffer from having a bad reputation. We essentially need visas to travel anywhere except to a few countries in South East Asia, Africa and South America. My H1B is valid for 3 years, but the maximum length given to a Vietnamese passport is just one year. I do know that my Chinese colleagues get 5-year visas. The lack of credibility creates a great deal of inconvenience, time consumption and trouble. We, as a people, would save a lot of time and money on all the visa paperwork if we had better credibility and if our citizens thought about the overall impact of our actions.

Passport, Signal of Trust and Credibility

A new ranking by a Singapore-based consulting firm saw Vietnamese passport climb up a few positions compared to last year, even though it still belongs to the bottom tier. As of this year, Vietnamese citizens can travel to 61 countries where there is no visa requirement or visas can be issued upon arrival.

What does a passport signal actually?

It signals to the destination countries how trustworthy, credible and civil the passport holder is likely going to be. For instance, a US passport holder can travel to more than 100 countries without visa restrictions since being a US citizen signals that he or she comes with the credibility of the US as a nation. Meanwhile, since Vietnam is a poor country with less credibility, the citizens can only travel to 61 countries visa-free.

That’s on a macro level.

However, I have lived in 3 Western countries and traveled to more than 10 different nations without any blemish on my civil profile, not even a parking ticket. My personal track record should be sufficient for other countries to trust me. Instead, a Nebraskan who never boards a plane before can go to Canada tomorrow without a visa while I will have to apply for one and next-day trips are, hence, out of question.

The asymmetry of information and the lack of credibility of a nation that cascades down to its citizens create a lot of problems and inconvenience for some individuals.

I wish there would be a blockchain-based system in which past records are impossible to alter unless perpetrators like to waste a huge amount of computing power, information is secure and everybody can access. That way, credibility can be assessed on an individual level, not a national one.

By the way, if you are fortunate enough to be born with a powerful passport, do travel. Don’t take it for granted. Explore the world and have some compassion towards less fortunate others. Just like me, many wish to travel freely, but can’t.