Ministry disappointed by US visa restrictions

BY: Daily Graphic
Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey — Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration
Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey — Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration says it is disappointed by the decision of the United States (US) authorities to implement visa sanctions on Ghana for the alleged lack of adequate cooperation in accepting Ghanaian nationals who have been ordered to move out of the US.

On the contrary, the ministry said, it had always cooperated with the US authorities in the processing and removal of Ghanaian citizens who had been cited for deportation from the US to Ghana.

“As a requirement, and in accordance with international law, the Ghana Embassy in Washington, DC, undertook identification and verification processes to ensure that all persons earmarked for deportation to Ghana were bona fide citizens of Ghana,” a statement issued by the ministry said.

Those affected

The US Embassy in Accra last Thursday issued visa restrictions on some category of Ghanaians, to take effect from today.

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The affected persons are parliamentarians, members of the Executive and their families applying for visas to travel on holiday or for business in the US, with the US saying it will now limit their visas to only a 30-day single entry access.
Previously, the embassy issued six months or more multiple-entry (B1, B2 and B1/B2) visas to that category of persons.

In addition, the US Embassy will discontinue issuing all non-immigrant visas (NIV) to domestic employees (A3 and G5) of Ghanaian diplomats posted to the US, explaining that A3 and G5 visa applications will be processed but no visas will be issued in those categories while the restrictions remain in effect.

‘We’re cooperating’

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But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said all countries undertook identification and verification processes to accept their deported citizens from all over the world and that it was not peculiar to Ghana and the US.

“The identification and verification mechanism has stipulated timelines and procedures which are communicated to the deporting authorities at all times.

“It should be noted that as of January 8, 2019, our Washington Mission had received 28 applications from the US authorities, out of which 19 had been interviewed by the embassy and 11 travelling certificates issued for their travel to Ghana.

“Those outstanding are as a result of doubts on their Ghanaian nationality, ill health and pending litigation in US courts,” the statement stated.

It pointed out that officers of the US Embassy had verbally informed the ministry that there were about 7,000 Ghanaians who were at different stages of deportation proceedings.

“However, there has not been any confirmation by the US authorities of a final court order for their removal, in accordance with the US's own laws,” it said.

Issue travel documents expeditiously

At a news conference last Friday, the US Ambassador, Ms Stephanie S. Sullivan, explained that the sanctions were pursuant to Section 243(d) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act in relation to denying or unreasonably delaying accepting the return of its nationals who had been deported.

The UN Convention on International Civil Aviation, to which Ghana is a signatory, obligates the issuance of the necessary travel documents to citizens of a country under deportation orders from another country.

According to the US government, the visa restrictions would be in force until the situation was resolved.

Ms Sullivan called on the government to take immediate steps to provide travel documents to Ghanaians in the US who had been given deportation orders to prevent the imposition of further restrictions on the country.

She stressed that there would be an expansion on the category of visa sanctions on Ghana if it further delayed in complying with the United Nations (UN) convention on international civil aviation that obligated a member country to provide such documents for the deportation of its nationals.

“It is unfortunate that we had to get to this point, but we cannot help it because there have been so many conversations since July 2016 on the issue. There were some countries that were on the list and they have gone off and so we expect Ghana to also go off too. Therefore, we want Ghana to issue the travel documents expeditiously,” Ambassador Sullivan emphasised.

However, she said, the US government was committed to engaging Ghana in more dialogue to remove bottlenecks that were impeding the issuance of the travel documents.