Travel/entry requirements are different for each country. FFI can help by offering an invitation letter. The amount of support this brings depends on the person reviewing the application.
With increased security and immigration controls now in effect for many countries, it has become more difficult for some of our Friendship Force clubs to obtain entry visas for travel to their assigned host countries. Granting a travel visa is a government decision over which FFI has no control. However, we can share the following information based on recent experience. Please understand that these are general statements, intended only as guidelines.
Who is affected and why?
Prospective ambassadors traveling from countries with lower incomes or with a history of high level of outward immigration are most likely to encounter strict policies when applying to the USA, Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In general, visas are likely to be denied because the consular official of the host country believes the applicant may intend to stay in the host country rather than just visit for a short period of time.
What steps can the ambassadors take to improve their chances of receiving visas?
a. The ambassador Journey Coordinator should interview all applicants very carefully to make sure they will return home as scheduled. If a FF club member does not return, it can cause a long-term problem for the ambassador club, as the visa officials will decide our program is not reliable.
b. While each ambassador may be required to have an individual interview, if possible, it may be helpful for the Journey Coordinator to request an appointment in advance to explain the purpose of the journey. If this is not possible with the visa section of the embassy or consulate, it may be possible to talk with the Cultural Affairs office. Let them know that members of the delegation will be applying and ask if there is any special documentation that you may provide. Emphasize that there is a careful selection process and that a FF Journey is not just a travel program that people sign up for.
c. During the interview, each applicant should present strong evidence that they intend to return home. Applicants who have traveled before, who have good jobs and strong links to their home community are most likely to receive visas. On the other hand, couples or families traveling together, or young people who may be seen as having economic incentives to remain in the host country are less likely to receive visas. Providing bank statements and other financial information can be helpful in this regard.
d. FFI will prepare an invitation letter for the ambassadors. This should be available to present to the visa official, along with other application material that may be required. Applicants should schedule their visa interview as far in advance as possible. This is very important!
e. Each applicant should be knowledgeable about the Friendship Force and about your local club as well as the program that is being prepared by the host club. The visa officials may ask general questions about FFI: its purpose and history. They could also ask about the hosting community. If the applicant doesn’t know where your host club is located, for example, the official will become suspicious. Also, remember that visa officials may doubt your motives if all you tell them is that you are traveling to the host country to make some new friends. Instead, emphasize that you have been selected to be a member of a cultural exchange delegation. If possible, tell how the exchange will be valuable to you professionally as well as the personal benefits for participating in the exchange. You might also tell them that you are an active member of the local Friendship Force club, participating in hosting activities as well as traveling abroad.
f. If members of the delegation can schedule their interviews on the same day, let the FFI program services coordinator know the date and time of the interviews. In some cases we can call or email the consulate to encourage a favorable reply.
g. Sometimes, ambassadors that are denied visas may be able to try again. In this case, try to get the name of the visa official making the decision. In some cases, FFI was able to talk to the official and encourage them to give a positive response the second time.
h. Since we know that it is likely that some ambassadors will be denied visas, the Journey Coordinator should try to have a larger number of ambassadors apply for visas.
i. Throughout the process, the ambassador JC should provide the host JC with up to date and accurate information regarding the visa issues.
j. After all the ambassadors have returned home, the JC should consider a courtesy visit to the consulate to report on a successful exchange with all ambassadors back home.
Is there anything the host club can do to assist?
a. In addition to the FFI letter of invitation, it is helpful to have a letter of invitation from the host club that emphasizes the cultural/educational program that is being planned and confirming their interest in hosting. The host club letter should also note that the journey is part of a global exchange program linking the two clubs.
b. We do not recommend that host clubs ask their host families to provide any kind of economic guarantee for the ambassadors.
c. If the host club is informed that the ambassadors may be denied visas or issued at the last minute, the host club will need to decide whether or not it wants to cancel the journey because of the lack of certainty regarding the number of ambassadors who will travel. FFI encourages the host club to remain flexible. For example, the host club may want to wait until final word is received before making final plans for the exchange. Avoid making deposits for tours or banquets. Instead, have a group of potential hosts prepared to step forward at the last minute if needed. If on the other hand the time comes when the host club has to withdraw the invitation, contact FFI first to make sure everything possible has been done to confirm the journey.
d. Don’t forget the mission of the Friendship Force! Hosting a delegation, large or small, from a country that has difficulty receiving visas can be a very meaningful experience for host clubs that don’t give up too soon.
A final note to both ambassador and host clubs: Remember that the visa laws are complicated and beyond the control of the Friendship Force clubs. Do not blame your counterpart club for the difficulties. Also, recognize that each case and each journey is unique. Just because a club had difficulty one year doesn’t mean they will have problems the next time. Please avoid making a decision not to accept journeys from countries where it is possible that visa problems may arise.