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In many countries (e.g. the Schengen area) it is common for visa nationals to only receive a single entry visa for the exact duration of their trip. Supposedly it prevents the "bad guys" from overstaying and/or working undercover. However assuming one is planning to overstay, do they really care about the duration of the visa? Even if it's a single entry visa for a single day nothing stops them from throwing out their return ticket and disappearing inside the country.

So the question is - why not always issue convenient multi-entry multi-year visas to all verified travelers? Countries such as the US routinely do so despite being extremely paranoid, so it's not exactly unheard of.

  • My cynical view is that it's also about the money. The British for example are the most notorious for using visa fees as a revenue generator. Disgraceful! – user57303 Jul 12 '17 at 16:20
  • @Phantom the British usually issue 6 months visas to all applicants. – JonathanReez Jul 12 '17 at 16:22
  • @JonathanReez And the USA charges the same reasonable fee for either a three month visa or five year visa. Clearly they are not looking to monetize visa applications. – user57303 Jul 12 '17 at 16:24
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Most countries want genuine tourists and business travelers and do not want illegal immigrants. (Some want legal immigrants, some do not, but that's another issue.) When a visa is granted, the country takes the risk that the applicant is actually an illegal immigrant. When a visa is denied, the country takes the risk that the applicant is actually a genuine tourist.

Since it is impossible to look into the mind of an applicant, countries look at the the application and the supporting documents. They want visitors who fit the profile of a typical tourist and who have ties to their home country.

By granting only single-entry visa, countries get the chance to examine the circumstances of each individual visit. By granting multiple-entry visa, they can look at the circumstances during the initial application only. A visitor who had a stable job to return to during the first visit might not have any job years later. A visitor who had saved enough money for a week-long trip might have no money later on, and plan to support himself by illegal work.

The benefits of granting multiple-entry visa (for the country granting the visa) include the encouragement of tourism and business, and a reduction in bureaucratic overheads. So they try to find a balance which depends on their travel patters, both legal and illegal. And as alamar pointed out in his comment, there is also an element of reciprocity to gain benefits for their own citizens.

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Its a matter of risk, plain and simple.

The first time, you are an unknown entity thus, they limit what you may legally do. Of course, illegally you may do whatever you please.

On subsequent applications, given your good travel history (i.e. you obeyed the provisions of your visa) then you are given more leeway.

This happened to almost everyone I know, who traveled to the Schengen zone and needed a visa.

The first visa, extremely restricted - mine was single entry and for the exact duration of the trip. Second time, the visa was for 30 days. Third time, 60 days, multiple entry. The most recent application resulted in a one year visa, multiple entry.

A friend who had even more travel history than myself got a visa for the duration of his passport validity which was a good 5 years.

My colleague had a similar experience with the UK embassy; after a few successful trips he finally managed to apply for a 5 year visa.

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    Ok, but if you're a bad guy, you will get the single entry visa and overstay for as long as you can. If you're a semi-bad guy with a long visa you might try to find an undercover job but the Schengen visa is limited to 3 months anyway. If you're a good guy the visa application would just waste your time. So what's the point of "proving your legitimacy' more than once? – JonathanReez Jul 10 '17 at 22:33
  • Ideally, if you are "bad guy" you don't get the initial visa in the first place. The system is not fool proof. Repeated applications are not to prove your legitimacy, but rather to affirm that the purpose of your trip is allowed as part of your visa application; and also provide a recourse for those that may be rejected and now have circumstances in their favor. For some countries these applications are also a way to measure tourist volume (and some, even count the fees as income). – Burhan Khalid Jul 10 '17 at 22:38
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Maybe in case of Schengen area it's an attempt to make sure that the person actually spends time in the designated country? I.e. you could get a multi-year visa from e.g. Greece and then use it to travel to Germany all the time, without spending time in Greece after the first time. If you have to get a new visa for each trip, it will likely be to the country where you're getting the visa.

And then the opposite effect kicks in. Longer stay periods for recurrent visas. Travel to our country and get longer visas for the same amount of effort! Kind of a bonus program really.

Countries have to measure their desirability and their own desperation of getting more tourists. Too lax rules and tourists go to other places with "your" visa. Too strict rules, tourists don't come at all.

It shows that visas are used not only as means of security but also gamed to capture profit - and not by visitors this time but by participating countries.

  • Ok, then what about China or Russia? Sure, they're paranoid, but if they let you in once surely they wouldn't mind you a second time? Why do the visa formalities again for the same person? – JonathanReez Jul 10 '17 at 21:36
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    @JonathanReez AFAIK Russia trues to mimic other country's visa restrictions just for the reciprocity. If country X issues single-entry visas to Russians, Russia will issue single-entry visas to Xers. That plus a bit extra inflexibility and bureaucracy. – alamar Jul 10 '17 at 23:32
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    @JonathanReez China doesn't actually fear that you, as a non-Chinese, will disappear inside the country. You'll definitely be very visible. So by giving you exact visas they might be fairly sure you'll come as specified and exit as specified. – alamar Jul 10 '17 at 23:34

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