Visa policies and their effects

Preventing mobility?

Authored by: Federica Infantino

The Routledge Handbook of Critical European Studies

Print publication date:  December  2020
Online publication date:  December  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138589919
eBook ISBN: 9780429491306
Adobe ISBN:


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The study of the origin of words provides enhanced perspectives on their meanings and uses over time. The term visa does not make an exception in this respect. Its etymology dates back to Latin. Literally, it means ‘something that has been seen’. Currently, the meaning associated to the word visa is a mark or a stamp on a passport that gives permission to enter a given country, usually for a particular reason. This meaning is relatively novel. The modern international passport and visa systems originated during the First World War. The emergence of this meaning informs about two strictly interrelated processes: The constitution of modern nation-states whose ‘state-ness' also consists in the monopoly of the ‘legitimate means of movement’, such as visas and passports (Torpey 2000). Modern nation-states have monopolized the authority to issue authorizations to cross state borders, which also allow for identifying unambiguously. The Schengen visa retains features of the modern visa system and follows the lines of the history of identification techniques. However, it presents a number of distinctive characteristics. First, the Schengen visa authorizes entry and circulation, up to 3 months, in a region composed by more than one nation-state, which have lifted inter-state frontiers. Second, the Schengen visa is a sticker that builds on sophisticated identification technologies and contains biometric information about its holder most notably fingerprints. Finally, it is a symbol of the European Union taken by the possibility of representing a simple administrative procedure or the key locking the gates of ‘Fortress Europe’.

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