Visas are polarising conversation and public debate in an increasingly wired world that struggles to balance hopes and fears of globalisation. Aspiring international business students, as well as tourists, business people, officials and diplomats, are one large category affected by visa policy decisions.
Now the Commonwealth has stepped into the arena, flagging up the issue in its communique from its heads of government meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sunday.
The Commonwealth strives to promote improved trade and industry links among its members. Within its loose assembly, the often quixotic organisation of 53 developed and developing countries sees great gains for all the member countries from bona fide travel, including educational exchanges. Rapid digitalisation of passports and other identity documents has made it easier to satisfy security concerns.
True, easier cross-border travel for Commonwealth citizens was not exactly top of the list of the meeting's priorities. But point 84 of the 98-point missive runs 'heads (of government) requested that a working group of officials be created by the Secretary-General to consider (a) report's recommendations in the lead up to 2015 CHOGM (scheduled to be held in Malta) and to provide detailed proposals, including any other regimes that better facilitate free movement of Commonwealth citizens.'
The report in question - Facilitating Border Crossings: A Commonwealth of People - was prepared by the Ramphal Institute, a Commonwealth policy think-tank, from which it was commissioned.
Richard Bourne, Ramphal Institute secretary, who drafted the report, was disappointed that the institute's original proposal for a group of ministers to address this problem had been downgraded in the recommendation to mere 'officials'.
The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) is another international ensemble with broadly similar goals and it has already addressed this issue very practically. The APEC business travel card substantially reduces immigration formalities, and is recognised by 18 member states.
APEC leaders reckoned such a card could be a small but important step en route to an overarching free trade area of the Asia Pacific.
Bourne is encouraged by the fact that the next summit is to be held in Malta and that the expertise of Michael Frendo, Malta's former foreign minister, was drawn upon for the report. "Michael Frendo felt there was a very strong interest in Malta itself in bringing the Commonwealth visa arrangements into sync with (those of) the European Union."
Bourne also accepts that there have been many false dawns for Commonwealth initiatives. Who now remembers the proposal for a dedicated Commonwealth communications satellite, for example, or the ambitious e-business portal for Commonwealth countries, to name only two?
Is the Commonwealth Card only another well-intentioned, impractical proposal of the kind so often rehearsed by Commonwealth think-tanks, fatally flawed because involving coordination of too many international players with cross-motives.
"I've been involved in some quite different types of thing, like for instance the Commonwealth teacher recruitment protocol which ... has been taken up by some countries but not by others," he says.
A compromise solution for some Commonwealth countries which would allow them to participate in APEC's already up and running scheme was also suggested by the Ramphal Institutes report.
All well and good, but economic and financial considerations will be uppermost in the minds of officials of member governments tasked to implement any Commonwealth Card scheme, and that at a time of austerity.
Bourne recognises this. "This is very much to do with inward investment and the expansion of trade and from that point of view there might be some costs involved in pre-clearing people, like those given the APEC card, but the benefits would hugely outweigh any costs to the governments concerned."
The Indian Ocean Rim association, he says, is also considering an APEC-type card, "which brings in some additional Commonwealth member states." He added: "Among the 10 out of 15 Commonwealth countries that we spoke to, the desire to make some progress is very strong."
Piece written by Martin Mulligan of the Financial Times and member of the Commonwealth Journalists Association.