Smart Passports: Can blockchains reduce the hassle of visa renewals?

Smart Passports: Can blockchains reduce the hassle of visa renewals?

    Archaia is a 60 year old entrepreneur, and he has a problem. A multimillion dollar deal, which could transform his steel business forever, hangs in the balance. He can either reach Beijing, China tomorrow morning and sign the deal, or watch as his competitor walks away with the hugely profitable contract.

    Nova is a 20 year old cricketer - a specialist fast bowler, who also has a similar problem. He needs to reach Mumbai, India by that evening and register as replacement for an injured player on the team. If he doesn't reach on time then a part time pacer, who is already with the team as a batsman, will have to take his place at the risk of weakening the team.

    They both have three things in common:

  • 1.They had visas to their desired destination, but these are now expired and pending renewal
  • 2.They are both stranded in the Colombo airport with varying degrees of hope on that warm day in March 2025
  • 3.Substantial amounts of money and goodwill are at stake in both cases, which makes them very keen to solve their problems and get to their respective destinations

Archaia pulls out his passport and flips through the pages, noticing to his dismay that there are hardly any pages left. He swears under his breath as he runs a Google search wondering how quickly he can get a new passport issued and also get his visa renewed.

Nova is a little ahead of Archaia. His passport has no pages, and that is by design. Instead, the little chip that is embedded on the Smart Passport is able to connect to the network and query the consulate directly about getting his visa renewed. Thanks to blockchains, the consulate has access to Nova's records in terms of law and order, tax payments, health and everything else that would govern his clearances to fly. Given the inherent secure design of a blockchain, they can be assured that every record is accurate and up to date, with no danger of being tampered with or forged. On the other hand, the holders of those records are well aware that only an authorized entity such as the consulate will gain access using their key.

Finding everything in order, and because there is no major diplomatic issue between the two countries, the computer is able to process his visa internally and request his sponsor's bank account for a renewal fee. Once that is cleared, Nova gets a text message on his mobile phone: "Your visa has been renewed up to March 1, 2030. Have a great trip!" Checking the status online, he gets all the details he needed to know and proceeds to purchase his ticket. The counter clerk can read all his information using a Smart Passport Reader and lets him rush through with minimal hassle. Nova knows that his team manager, who is sitting in New Delhi, has his tablet connected to the network and will be notified of Nova's new visa status thanks to the blockchain!

As he races across the airport, Nova sees the paper passport and is a bit confused – "Do people still use this kind of paper passport these days? So archaic! Thank God for technology"

Granted, there maybe a hole or two in the plot when it comes to the specifics of implementation. And to truly make such a day possible will involve a massive international change management effort. But it is still very much possible in some form; and this could be just one of several thousands of use cases which are practically beneficial to people. The very objective of a connected world is the exchange of information and signals. Any system such as this one that is based on information – and depends on its security and accuracy across nodes – could potentially benefit from blockchains, if they are deployed right.

Technologists continue to explore several use cases of blockchains. Every problem we face in daily life could be an opportunity. It's the best time to innovate!

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Tuesday, 16 April 2024

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