Travelling on a Bangladesh passport means facing a lot of difficulties
I am a Bangladeshi citizen. Recently, I chose Singapore Airlines to fly out to New York from Dhaka. My final destination was Boston, but I didn’t mind landing in NY and then catching a low-cost Megabus from NY to Boston.
This meant taking a train from the airport to the bus stop carrying my luggage in Manhattan. I was happy to bear this little trouble because I was planning to tour Singapore during my long stop-over period.
There was a 12-hour layover in my journey. I discovered one flight that had an 18-hour layover. I booked it, intending to spend more time touring the city of lions (the name Singapore derived from ‘Singhapur’).
In 2014, on my way back from the States, I happened to be at Singapore’s Changi Airport for a 16-hour transit. As I didn’t have a visa, I couldn’t get out of the airport. Even so, I approached the immigration officer, just to give it a shot. The officer smiled at me, and said there was nothing he could do; ordinary Bangladeshi passport holders were not eligible for the visa-on-arrival option.
At that moment, I felt discriminated against and humiliated. I wished I were a national of a developed country. Imagine a Japanese or European in this situation. With the visa exemption benefit, the transit passenger could easily use the idle time to explore the tiny nation.
Hence, in 2019, I decided to get a Singapore visa so that I could add a new country to my travel list. I had to go to an agent in Dhaka for this purpose since, as a Bangladeshi national, you cannot do it yourself. According to the Consulate of the Republic of Singapore in Dhaka, “applications must be submitted online through one of the Consulate’s Authorized Visa Agents in Dhaka.”
It is queer that one of the most technologically advanced countries on earth has created an intermediary process for Bangladeshi travellers who would like to visit that country. And the most ludicrous thing is, to visit Singapore, you must know someone there to invite you.
You need a “Letter of Introduction (LOI) to be issued by a local contact in Singapore.” Any Singapore citizen or Singapore permanent resident, as explained on their website, who is at least 21 years old, can act as a local contact.
My travel agent informed me that I could submit a visit-visa application through them with or without an invitation letter. If I didn’t have an invitation letter, they would provide one, and the charge would be higher. Of course, like many a Bangladeshi, I was unable to procure that so-called “Letter of Introduction.” So, I went for the latter option and paid extra money to get a visitor visa.
I came home, and would occasionally Google a set of thrilling words like “things to do in Singapore in 12 hours.” Ten days later, I received a text from the agent saying that my application for the Singapore visa had been rejected.
There was nothing specifically written about the cause of rejection in the letter. It just coldly said: “After careful consideration, we regret to inform you that the visa application is not successful.”
It made me sad, but what was more was that I felt humiliated, once again. They treated me like this because I was an ordinary Bangladeshi passport-holder, and because I was a citizen of a developing country.
However, I shot the Singapore consulate office in Dhaka an email about this rejection. I told them that in the last ten years, I had travelled to the UK, US, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the like. I wondered why my application was rejected. I received no response.
There was still hope to take a trek through the Singapore city, though. I learned from the Singapore Airlines website that there was a free Singapore city-tour for its transit passengers. The free tour didn’t require a visa, and would last two and a half hours. It wasn’t bad, and I placated myself saying that something was better than nothing.
It was a Wednesday morning when I landed in Singapore’s Changi Airport. I happily approached the registration booth for the city sights tour. The unsmiling staff took a glance at my passport and returned it. According to the immigration rules of Singapore, she said, Bangladeshis were not allowed for the tour.
“There’s nothing written about it on your website,” I protested. She told me to speak to immigration. I certainly didn’t reach out to the immigration officers. If Bangladeshis and some other nationalities were restricted from enjoying the free Singapore city-tour, wouldn’t it have been practical for Singapore Airlines to give a heads up about it on their website?
The skies above the Changi airport fell upon me. All my plans were ruined. I had bought the Singapore Airlines ticket only to visit the Singapore city. If I had taken Turkish Airlines instead, for example, my fare would have been lower and the travel time would have been almost half. Now, I was stuck in Singapore for 18 hours.
I had a horrible time, but there was even more shock waiting for me. Later, when I boarded the aircraft for New York’s JFK airport, I found out that the flight would fly via Frankfurt. There was no clue about it anywhere on my ticket. Landing in any airport meant that I would have to go through the security checks all over again. But what could I do now?
Throughout my journey, all I could think was that Bangladesh was no longer the country it used to be. The country’s economic growth has been impressive over the years. Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi tourists are making international trips to have their vacations every year.
The time has come for many countries to reconsider their visa policies for Bangladeshi tourists. At the very least, their policies should be more reasonable and fair.
Rahad Abir is a writer.