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Many consulates around the world require all applicants to purchase a flight ticket as part of their visa documentation requirements. For example, the French consulate in the US mentions the following as part of their visa application guidelines:

Purpose of travel/stay

  • Pre-booked round-trip ticket

But why does this requirement exist in the first place? If the visa is not issued, the applicant would have to cancel their ticket (which incurs fees) or forfeit their journey altogether. Furthermore, its possible that the visa processing would take so long that the dates of travel would be long past by the time the visa is issued. This conundrum has caused numerous services to pop-up which offer fake (or semi-fake) flight reservations, as well as airlines which offer refunds in case of visa refusals.

  • Is it so that the consulate knows the applicant is financially secure? This doesn't make sense as one would presumably need to buy a ticket anyway once their visa is issued or they wouldn't be able to travel.
  • Is it so that the itinerary can be sanity checked? This likewise doesn't make sense as the consulate could simply ask for a list of possible flights instead of a ticket.
  • Perhaps its designed to make the application more difficult and deter people from applying?
  • Or maybe its a case of "we've always done it this way" and no rational explanation exists?

The purpose of this question is to understand the motivation behind the requirement to pre-purchase a ticket, which would help travellers decide how much importance to place on this part of the visa application checklist.

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    Why the downvote? this question is actually a very good question. +1 – Nean Der Thal Sep 2 '18 at 4:18
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    I guess this requirement was there since the time when cancelling tickets was almost free (or with a very small fee), and it continued to exist up to now. IMO, it's totally useless. Asking for a return ticket when entering a country by the customs is legit and makes sense, but not while applying for the visa. – Nean Der Thal Sep 2 '18 at 4:24
  • It does not even need to be a ticket, on entering the Schengen zone you need to show you have the ticket or means to leave the area and that can be as simple as a visa for a neighboring country and the money needed for a bus ticket. – Willeke Sep 2 '18 at 8:23
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    @JonathanReez, I posted that comment to show the difference between the visa application and entering requirements. – Willeke Sep 2 '18 at 8:32
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because of the reasons I gave here on meta: only the people who made the decision really know, and most answers will be purely speculative. Also, it makes no difference to an actual traveller: the rules are the rules and you gotta obey them regardless of why they were chosen that way. – David Richerby Sep 2 '18 at 18:34
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The visa systems want to let the "right" visitors in and keep the "wrong" visitors out. The "right" visitors are those who spend money on the tourist sector or negotiate business deals and then leave again, the "wrong" visitors are those who claim refugee status or overstay and work illegally.

(The hypocrisy of nations who remain signatory to various refugee conventions and make it all but impossible for a genuine refugee to apply is a matter for Politics Stack Exchange.)

Of course they cannot tell the intention of the visitor in advance. So they look at other things.

  • A stable and well-paid job is good, for obvious reasons.
  • A follow-up visa or even better a residency permit in another highly developed country is good, because few people would swap legal status in one highly developed country for illegal status in another.
  • Detailed travel plans are good, because both business travelers and many tourists have detailed and coherent plans while many would-be immigrants do not.
  • A visitor with a stable job has reason to be back on time, or that job may be lost. That makes it normal for such a visitor to plan the return trip in detail even if other parts of the itinerary are more vague.

The last two bullet points are where your question comes in. Note that proof of onward travel is not, strictly speaking, necessary for a Schengen visa if the rest of your situation looks good enough. But without it (i.e. if your means of onward travel is simply a fat bank account and a "I'll find something") there will be more scrutiny of the rest of the application.

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    Detailed travel plans are good, because both business travelers and many tourists have detailed and coherent plans while many would-be immigrants do not. Not accurate. Most people intending to abscond know the gig, they almost all have return tickets knowing full well they do not plan to return. – user 56513 Sep 2 '18 at 14:56
  • So it's just a way of deterring dishonest but illiterate applicants from applying? Round trip tickets are cheaper than one ways for international flights and buying one is a matter of stopping by a travel agent for a few minutes. – JonathanReez Sep 2 '18 at 15:04
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    @JonathanReez and Musonius, look around on this board (a self-selected sample, of course) and among those who made it to Europe. Many seem not to understand how the typical European bureaucracy works. So yes, a first filter for uninformed would-be immigrants. But even people who understand the need to fake an entire itinerary would be faking it. – o.m. Sep 2 '18 at 15:23
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I've always thought the main reason was to deter visitors who do not intend to return back home (e.g. unwanted migrants into France) early on, and that in some parts of the world a secondary reason may be to collect and link up intelligence information about visitors (e.g. foreigners traveling in China) also early on.

As to whether such rules can still be effective and specifically for the second (conjectured) reason, there may be a sort of continuous arms race going on: Governments' means for harvesting and and linking digital information are clearly increasing, on the other hand it is nowadays simple enough to make a "fake" reservation and then cancel it.

For instance, the section on Entry requirements in the current Rough Guide to China plainly recommends this:

You will need to fill out a form with a detailed itinerary of your proposed trip, along with proof of a return ticket and accommodation restorations for every night that you're in China. To get around that last hurdle, find a hotel via ctrip.com that doesn't require your credit card details to make the reservation, book if for the duration, and then cancel the booking once you have your visa.

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    How would it help against visitors who don't intend to return back? – Neusser Sep 2 '18 at 7:33
  • It doesn't really help as one way international tickets are more expensive than a round trip. So someone who's intent on staying illegally would presumably get a round trip ticket just to save money. – JonathanReez Sep 2 '18 at 7:41

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