Afghan visa black market thrives as embassies remain closed

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Many embassies in Kabul remain closed after the collapse of the previous Afghan government, fueling a black market for visas sought by citizens desperate to leave the country.

The Taliban’s takeover of the capital in August forced thousands of Afghans to flee the conflict-torn country, but many remain and are willing to pay exorbitant sums to purchase visas. The new government resumed issuing passports in October.

Significant numbers of Afghans are targeted for their past association with government or coalition forces. More than 125,000 people have been evacuated or have fled. Media workers and women, including their families, are particularly motivated to leave as they can no longer work or study safely.

Among them is Nissar Saeed, 31, who worked as an informal consultant for foreign entities and a taxi driver in Kabul before the fall of the former government.

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“When the Taliban arrived in Kabul on August 15, they picked me up because I had worked with foreign journalists as a fixer,” Saeed said in comments to Nikkei Asia. “They said that since I was working for non-Muslim women, I should pay them the money. [I earned] because it belonged to the emirates.

Saeed said he went into hiding after his first encounter with the Taliban, but the harassment continued. “They once slapped my father when he told them he didn’t [know] where I was. It was then that I decided to leave the country. But I didn’t have a job and the visas were expensive. So one of the journalists helped me pay for my visa.

A travel agent he knew and trusted offered him an Iranian visa for $ 700, prepaid. “But after I paid him he stalled for days and always said it would be done ‘tomorrow’.” Sensing that the agent probably wouldn’t deliver, Saeed demanded his money. “Corn [the agent] said he could only pay $ 350 because he paid the rest to embassy officials. He later agreed to reimburse $ 500.

Visa prices in Afghanistan have increased exponentially since the fall of Kabul. Nikkei spoke to several travel agents who confirmed that visas that previously cost between $ 20 and $ 80 now cost over $ 1,000, mostly to cover bribes.

“We don’t even have money to feed our families. The [travel agents] lie to people, ”Saeed said. “No one I know got their visa after paying the money. There are so many bogus agents.

Many Afghans who want to leave have limited options. Although the Taliban have reopened the government’s passport office and issue passports, most foreign embassies have been closed since August. The few still open include Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, and hopeful emigrants give thousands of dollars upfront to sketchy operators who have no way – or intention – to obtain the documents coveted.

27-year-old Kabul resident Noorullah Niazi remembers being duped by a travel agent who charged him $ 350 for a visa to India, despite the country temporarily suspending its embassy operations on the 16th. August.

“I wanted to apply for an Indian visa after the Taliban arrived,” Niazi said. “I called in a travel agent who asked me to pay $ 350 for a visa that was previously free. They said half the money would go to embassy officials, who would issue the visa in eight to ten days.

Taliban official checks people's documents outside Kabul passport office, which reopened in October

A Taliban official checks people’s documents outside the Kabul passport office, which reopened in October © AFP via Getty Images

But after 15 days and still no visa, Niazi called the agent, who asked him to wait longer.

“I smelled something fishy and went there to ask for my visa or my money,” he said. “They said they could only return $ 175 because they paid the other half to the embassy and [the embassy] will not return it. I learned later that there was no longer an Indian embassy in Kabul. It was then that I reported them to the Taliban, who got my money back.

Zabihullah Mujahid, deputy minister of information and culture in the Taliban administration, told a local news agency in Kabul that officials are investigating the incidents, after which they act according to the law.

Despite widespread fraud, some travel agents still attempt to provide honest service. According to someone who spoke to the Nikkei on condition of anonymity, helping Afghans obtain visas can come at great personal risk.

“I work underground because if [the Taliban] find out that I am helping people leave the country, they might punish me.

He explained how his agency obtains a visa, in this case for Turkey.

“We ask for your passport, four photos and a copy of your [Afghan identity card]. I organize the documents and submit them on your behalf to [Turkish] embassy. An embassy official then gives me the green light four to six days after reviewing the documents. The applicant receives the visa and an invoice for additional fees which must be paid after arriving in Istanbul.

Asked about the success rate, he replies that the visa is guaranteed unless the applicant is blacklisted. “We don’t ask clients for money until they get the visas at the embassy. No one is billed until the task is completed. It is the rule.

Since Turkey and Afghanistan do not share a border, the total cost includes transit visas and flights. The process can take up to 15 days, depending on the agent.

“At the moment, we only offer tourist visas, valid for one month. But once they arrive in Turkey, they can register as refugees with [the United Nations] to obtain a refugee card.

Rajeev, an Indian national who previously worked on a World Bank-funded project for the former government, had waited three months to be evacuated before taking matters into his own hands. He went to the black market for a visa and eventually managed to leave Afghanistan via Iran.

“The visa process was very confusing,” Rajeev said. “I went to the Iranian embassy to apply for a transit visa. The consulate section of the embassy directed us to the Mahan Air office in [another part of Kabul]. They probably have a link for flights and visas.

Rajeev went to the airlines office as directed where he was asked to pay € 70 for the visa but could not find out when it would be issued. So he did what is now common practice. “I offered to bribe them to speed things up,” he said. “They asked me to pay € 200 to get the visa in the next four days and an additional $ 330 for a flight between Kabul and Mashhad in Iran.”

As the Taliban press the international community for recognition, Afghan officials and travel agents are calling for embassies to reopen, a move that would dry up the visa black market.

“If the non-recognition continues, the Afghan problems continue,” Mujahid said at a press conference in Kabul on October 30. “This is the region’s problem and could become a problem for the world,” he said, adding that recognition was a right. of the Afghan people.

A version of this article was first published by Nikkei Asia on November 11. © 2021 Nikkei Inc. All rights reserved.


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