Discussions on consular matters don’t affect US visa issuance to routine Pakistanis: Foreign Affairs

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ISLAMABAD: The United States will continue their normal consular operations at the US Embassy in the federal capital and ongoing discussions on consular matters, including repatriation, do not affect the issuance of visas to routine Pakistani applicants, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press release issued.

In statement on the media reports about a notification from the US Federal Registry on “introduction of new rules” on consular matters, the Foreign Office said the insinuations made in the media reports were misleading.

“There are ongoing discussions between Pakistan and the United States on consular matters including repatriation issues,” the FO said. “Both countries are working bilaterally on these issues consistent with their respective laws and have made considerable progress.”

The US had warned Pakistan that it may withhold immigrant and non-immigrant visas of Pakistani citizens in accordance with its updated list of rules.

The visa-related sanctions were mentioned in the aforementioned notification, which was updated earlier this week. Pakistan is the latest in a list of nine other countries that face sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump’s administration under the rule, according to which nations refusing to take back deportees and visa over-stayers would be denied visas.

“Since the law was modified to cover nonimmigrant visas in 1996, 318 visa applicants have been affected, and sanctions have been imposed on 10 countries: Guyana (2001); Gambia (2016); Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone (2017); Burma and Laos (2018); and Ghana and Pakistan (2019),” the Federal Register’s rules and regulations read.

“During this same time period, tens of millions of aliens have received nonimmigrant visas including, collectively, millions of applicants from the 10 countries affected,” they add.

It is further mentioned that under Section 243 (d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Secretary of State — which, at present, is Mike Pompeo — is required to discontinue granting immigrant or non-immigrant visas to a nation after notification from the US Department of Homeland Security that the country has denied or is unreasonably delaying accepting a citizen, subject, national or resident of that country.

The matter has been under discussion between officials from the two sides for over a year. Pakistani officials at the embassy here had maintained that, in most instances, the citizenship of such individuals was either not proven, and, in some cases, the relevant documents of the individuals were destroyed or forged and, thus, could not be verified.

“Given the scope of the historic INA 243(d) sanctions, and the scale of nonimmigrant visa travel to the United States as a whole, the economic impact of INA 243(d) visa sanctions to date has been de minimis, but far broader sanctions could be imposed to achieve the objectives of INA 243(d),” the Federal Register says.

It adds that “because future application of these sanctions is based on unpredictable actions by foreign governments; complex assessments by DHS that cannot be pre-determined; and strategic foreign policy-related decisions by the Secretary of State, taking into account the circumstances of the bilateral relationship at the particular time, the Department is unable to estimate any particular future economic impact of INA 243(d) sanctions.”

The procedure and force of implementing the visa sanctions recommended by Homeland Security lies with the US Department of State.

It is also yet unclear how the State Department will deal with Pakistan in this case but, historically, the State Secretary strategically tailors visa sanctions to achieve critical foreign policy objectives, taking into account the circumstances of the country or population being targeted by the sanctions.

“There is no set formula, though, notably State has never issued a blanket refusal for visas from the country in question,” the document says.

“For some countries, sanctions begin by targeting officials who work in the ministries responsible for accepting the return of that country’s nationals, with escalation scenarios that target family members of those officials and, potentially, officials of other ministries, and then other categories of applicants, if initial sanctions do not prove effective at encouraging greater cooperation on removals by the targeted government,” the document says.

It adds that “for other countries, sanctions could begin more broadly. As provided for in INA 243(d), any country that fails to cooperate in the repatriation of its nationals subject to final orders of removal from the United States may be subject to sanctions, the scope of which will depend on the circumstances at the time the sanctions are implemented.”

In case these sanctions are implemented, it could affect the thousands of visa applicants — especially students — since Pakistan enjoys the largest US-run Fulbright Program in the world.

Whenever the sanctions are lifted, “normal consular operations may resume consistent with these regulations and guidance from the Department.”

Once the sanction under INA 243(d) is lifted, no new application processing fee is required in cases where issuance has been discontinued pursuant to an INA 243(d) order, and consular officers in the affected post must adjudicate the visa consistent with regulations and Department guidance,” the notification adds.

Exactly a year ago, the Trump administration had also imposed travel restrictions on Pakistani diplomats here as well, according to which the staff needs permission at least five days ahead from the US authorities if they need to travel outside of the imposed a 25-mile radius.