AUGUST 17 — It is a common social media gag to lightly joke about “being radicalised” by a random event.

However, I found some truth in the joke when I had to renew my US journalist visa and the whole long, ridiculous process made me think that immigration controls need to be abolished.

I truly believe that applying for a US visa is made to be so annoying and arduous to discourage people from even applying in the first place.

Five years ago I wrote a simplified guide to getting a US visa and am grateful to myself for writing it, as hilariously self-serving as that may be.

I had forgotten the landmarks I needed to look out for while walking to the US Embassy; my past article had plenty of reminders about the process but alas, my US visa interview this time was a lot less smooth compared to my first time.

My interviewer was terse and at times, almost antagonistic.

She did not seem to understand why I did not have press credentials.

She also seemed rather disbelieving that since I am a columnist and tech writer, the government doesn’t give press badges for those.

The interviewer was also exasperated as I was unable to remember the exact dates of my employment and I was exasperated back as my employer hadn’t changed, the reasons for my traveling hadn’t changed so why was she being difficult.

“Do I need to show you my old passport and travel records?”

“No, they’re all in the system. I can see them.”

The term 'illegals' shouldn’t even exist. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
The term 'illegals' shouldn’t even exist. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

How ridiculous it was. I had behaved, followed the rules, hadn’t overstayed or abused my visa. My interviewer’s computer could see the evidence of that.

It was clear throughout the years I had proven strong ties to Malaysia and returned from my US visits each time, never staying longer than a week or two.

Even getting myself a US visa interview date was annoying — it took me writing an email to finally get an appointment after waiting more than a month, when in the past it was as easy as scheduling it online.

The time I spent trying to get the appointment and the tediousness of the interview has convinced me of one thing: free movement should be the norm and not the exception.

Immigration departments and embassies as gatekeepers shouldn’t exist except in the case of permanent immigration.

You want to come? Sure. However if you want employment protections, voting rights and healthcare, apply for a residence permit.

The argument about security feels ridiculous when in the US it is very much obvious the biggest threat to its peace is its own citizens, who think nothing of showing up armed at the Capitol and Florida FBI office.

Seeing as how the US government is determined to do as little as it can for its citizens as far as welfare goes, why make it so hard for outsiders to visit?

The same, I think, applies to Malaysia. The term “illegals” shouldn’t even exist.

Let people enter as and when they please, so long as they have a valid passport and those entry and exit logs be used to monitor entries.

Any kind of gatekeeping needs to be done at the level of, say, employment or public services.

Free bus services, for instance, should remain free for citizens or non-citizens alike.

However, only those with valid employment passes should be given healthcare discounts but perhaps not as low as for citizens.

I refuse to believe we would have trouble deporting visitors for bad behaviour when someone could insult our prime minister on Facebook and the cops would appear in a day or less.

The only time I would say closing borders would be warranted is during a pandemic but that need could be alleviated if we invested, instead, in health screenings and sanitisation as well as ventilation measures.

There is technology now existing that can be implemented to keep public areas clean and kill off pathogens.

A combination of antimicrobial surfaces, regular cleaning with UV-C or vaporised hydrogen peroxide as well as filtration of HVAC systems can make indoor spaces safer.

We cannot roll back globalisation. The past two years should have taught us that closing off borders and restricting movement can have a detrimental effect on the economy as well as general wellbeing.

Truly I want to believe again in a world where we can look forward to new ways of doing things instead of just waiting to see which tech company decides to f*** us over next.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.