US Embassy revokes visas of 71 Students attending UN confab

BY: Seth J. Bokpe

Seventy-one students who paid various sums of money to secure visas and other travel documents to participate in a model United Nations Conference in New York had their dreams dashed at the last hour when the United States Embassy in Ghana revoked their visas.

The Embassy, it is believed, suspects that the organisers of the conference, United Ambassadors, are not genuine.

Useful links Ghana Politics | Ghana Celebrity News | News in Ghana

The students, some of whom were turned away at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) and London’s Heathrow Airport, paid a total of $17,750 ($250 each) as delegates fee to United Ambassadors, the supposed facilitators of the conference, and GH¢53,818 (GH¢758 each) as visa fees to the US Embassy.

One of the students who was scheduled to travel by direct flight from Accra to New York on Delta Airlines bought a ticket at $2,300, while, together with seven others, he spent $2,100 on Airbnb Apartment in New York

Two students who were scheduled to fly out on August 5, 2018 were turned away by Delta Airlines at the check-in counter at the KIA.


Useful links Ghana news | Ghana Business News | News in Ghana

A third student who travelled on British Airways on transit through Heathrow Airport in London was also prevented from connecting to New York for the same reason.

Letter revoking visa

Excerpts of an email the students received from the Consular Section of the US Embassy read: “Dear Applicant: You recently appeared at the US Embassy in Accra for a non-immigrant visa because you were attending the Model UN Conference in New York. This message is to alert you that the non-immigrant visa you received is no longer valid. You must not attempt to travel to the US with this visa. You will be denied boarding at the airport or you will be turned away at the US port of entry.

“If you still wish to travel to the US, you are REQUIRED to appear for a second interview at the US Embassy in Accra. At this second interview, you must bring all of your ORIGINAL Model UN Conference documentation that reflects this programme and your participation in it, such as brochures, letters, pamphlets, programs, guidebooks, welcome packets, or any other materials you have. Again, you MUST NOT travel to the US with the visa that you received. Your visa is no longer valid for travel.”

for current Ghana news | Ghana Business News | News in Ghana

No comment

Meanwhile, when contacted, a representative of the US Embassy, Ms Zenab Mahama, told the Daily Graphic that the mission “does not discuss details of individuals’ visas”.

But one of the affected students, who spoke to the Daily Graphic on condition of anonymity, said the US Embassy had been unfair to them.

The student’s story

Going into the details, he said the students had a WhatsApp platform on which one of them sent the link of the conference and asked if the others were interested.

Those who showed interest created accounts on the website of United Ambassadors and applied to attend the conference.

They were then asked to write a motivational letter as to why they wanted to participate in the conference and it was accepted.

The group then applied for visas and eight out of 12 students were issued the visas on July 23, 2018.

Fees paid

Giving further details, one of the students said: “I bought a ticket, got to the airport, tried to check in and the airline staff said the US Embassy says I can’t travel and that we should go to the embassy to find out the reason.

“When we got to the US Embassy, they said they did not know what the problem was and that we should send them a mail, telling them what had happened at the airport.”

According to the student, they were asked to schedule an emergency appointment, and on the day of the interview they received an email from the embassy, telling them that their visas had been cancelled and that they could not enter the US.

Besides, he said, the US Embassy pointed out to them that while they could re-apply, they needed to provide all original documentations on the conference.

‘You’ve been scammed’

The source said on a different date, they submitted the itinerary of the conference, as well as a letter from the university, but they were told during the interview that they had been scammed.

“We were told that they made some calls to the UN and that those who sent the emails supposedly from the UN did not exist and that we had been scammed,” it said.

United Ambassadors’ responses

Bombarded with emails from the students seeking explanation for their plight, United Ambassadors lay the blame at the doorstep of the US Embassy.

The Founder and Academic Director of United Ambassadors, Mr Nabila Elassar, who responded to the mails, while touting the credibility of the organisation, insisted that the United Ambassadors had no control over visa issuance.

“We assure you that we have no knowledge of, control over or right to interfere with decisions made by US embassies, are not able to question why many conference registrants are granted visas but some are not, since the US Embassy considers numerous factors for each applicant in each country.

“The same restrictions apply to all US-based institutions, including universities, non-governmental organisations and others. And, as explicitly stated in the invitation letter you received, in the case of visa rejection, we are not able to interfere on your behalf.

“The specific visa application rejections occurred primarily from Uzbekistan and Ghana. We have not heard similar issues from any other delegates attending the conference. I am at a loss for the reason this has occurred. However, it is most probable that one person from these countries (who is not our delegate) attempted to misuse or forge a United Ambassadors’ invitation letter, resulting in the need for stronger verification by the US Embassies in Accra and Tashkent,” the response said.

In a response to another student, United Ambassadors wrote: “We are aware of the situation and have emailed the US Embassy in Ghana with an urgent request. Please see below an email I just sent all delegates coming from Ghana and Uzbekistan. Please follow my instructions on your second visa appointment.

“Please provide them the attached conference participation guide, as well as your conference invitation letter. Please ask them to call United Ambassadors, if needed: +9174758833.”

Not too friendly

But as the students asked more questions, the tone of the responses from United Ambassadors got harsher.

One such response read: “First, please be advised that your words should be carefully considered before sending a similar email to our organising committee. US Embassies around the world in over 95 countries, to be exact, have sent hundreds of students from around the world to our conference in New York for the past three years.

“Second, have you seen our website and social media pages that contain countless videos and pictures of our previous conferences?”
The Daily Graphic’s email to the organisation has not received a response.

Email to UN

Emails to the United Nations offices in New York to authenticate the existence of United Ambassadors had not been responded to as of the time of going to press.

However, a senior UN official the Daily Graphic contacted said: “The United Nations (in New York) would (usually) never require or demand payment for conference or meeting participation.

“A website may appear genuine but be fraudulent. We’ll need to ask the Ghanaian participants how they got involved in this in the first place. Did other Ghanaians participate in previous years? This requires further digging and probing.”

The official further stated that such information should be verified from the offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) or the UN System in Ghana, adding: “Something doesn't add up and I smell a scam.”