NINE years after the first video display terminal – IBM 260 – was presented to the world, (a text-only monochrome cathode ray tube display station with a keyboard) a 1975 Business Week article predicted a paperless office.
The weekly magazine envisioned office automation that would make paper redundant as routine tasks are digitized.
After an initial reduction of physical paper used in the 1980s, evidence suggests that we are using more paper than before. Consider these statistics: Each day, one billion photocopies are made. (Forrester Research) The annual growth rate for paper produced by the average company is 25 percent. (Gartner)
There are over four trillion paper documents in the US alone, and this number is growing at a rate of 22 percent, or roughly 880 billion paper documents a year. (Source: Coopers and Lybrand)
During the same decade, five of the 10 members states of what was then the European Economic Community signed an agreement intended to abolish borders between them in support of people’s freedom of movement. The Schengen Agreement intended to gradually abolish border checks at the signatories’ common borders and harmonizing their visa policies.
Of late, the five original signatories – Belgium, France, West Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – have been joined by 21 other European states.
At a glance, the Schengen Agreement presented a microcosm of a borderless world since a visa issued to one Schengen country allows a visa holder to travel to the other states within the Schengen area.
With a Schengen visa, the borders within the 26 country signatories virtually vanish.
However, the European migrant crisis of 2016 has brought the borders back: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Poland and Sweden tightened up controls and instituted identity and nationality papers.
The Council on Foreign Relations report states that “since January 2016, there have been over 615,000 registered asylum applicants in the EU” and June 2016 UN report found that a record high total of 65.3 million people had been displaced worldwide by conflict and persecution in 2015.
The biggest driver of migration has been the conflict in Syria with the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses in Eritrea and poverty in Kosovo contributing to the migrant and refugee flow.
Before the United Kingdom took over administration of Eritrea in 1942, the Italians were there first, consolidating the various independent, distinct kingdoms and sultanates into the Italian Eritrea. In 1962, when Ethiopia annexed Eritrea, war broke out. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front was formed, while the Ethiopian military junta that overthrew Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie had Soviet support.
As in Iraq, Iran and Syria, the US, Britain, Italy and Russia pushed the local pieces across the chessboard of conflict.
In Pakistan, the Clinton administration initially supported the Taliban to counter Soviet influence through Iranian forces. The intent to contain Iranian influence in the Middle East continued under President Ronald Reagan who armed and financed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In the same decade, the US supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan to counter Russia. The US-supported groups later metamorphosed into the Taliban and IS.
The terrorist and Islamist jihadists came to life haunting the former string masters, now organized and funded enough to fight their own wars, conducting ethnic cleansing and establishing turfs, claiming caliphates, attracting foreign fighters in the name of Islam.
The civil war in Syria is widely acknowledged to have started by protests President Assad’s regime in 2011. Russia and Iran backed Assad while the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia backed the anti-government rebel groups.
These political, military and economic conflicts resulted in the exodus of millions of migrants across Europe. The US, reeling from the Twin Tower attacks and threatened by the rise of China, fled to protectionism under President Trump.
Under the fear-mongering claims of criminal and rapist aliens, Muslims celebrating the Twin Tower attack, millions of immigrants stealing jobs away from its citizens, Trump’s call for America First resonated, leading to electoral votes victory and the White House. Trump’s America First Policy has given dictators, autocrats and political parties in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Oceania to embrace nationalistic and protectionist policies.
The UK’s Brexit won from fear of migrants and refugees. Australia and New Zealand now preaches Aussies and Kiwis first.
Borders are being drawn and rebuilt in sharp contrast to the previous intent to have a borderless world.
Ironically, the paperless office has greatly contributed to this phenomenon as social media is taken over by nationalists, spreading fake news, even as Russia meddles with election processes in the US and Europe.
Until President Trump and the Republican Party’s goal to reduce legal immigration, stop chain migration and put up walls and obstructions in the visa processing, visa allocation remains the same.
The annual quota cannot be changed by an executive order. The US Congress must enact legislative changes.
So, before the border comes up and too high to hurdle even along the legal front, those with approved visa petitions should take ensure the fastest, efficient processing of their visa applications. The priority dates for April should be a guide on when to act.
While a portion of the visa application process is paperless, the National Visa Center still requires original printed copies of documents establishing eligibility for the visa category, evidence of relationship (birth, marriage certificates from the Philippine Statistics Authority) and, when you appear for your interview at the US Embassy in Manila, you must bring a printed copy of your DS 260 Immigrant Visa Application form.