The US Ambassador to Ghana, Ms Stephanie S. Sullivan, has called on the government to take immediate steps to provide the travel documents to the 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 the country further delayed in complying with 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 so we expect Ghana to also go off too.
Therefore, we want Ghana to issue the travel documents expeditiously,” Ambassador Sullivan emphasised.
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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.
Ms Sullivan stated this in her maiden engagement with selected journalists at the US Embassy in Accra yesterday.
The media engagement came on the heels of the imposition of travel restrictions on some categories of Ghanaians following what the US described as “lack of cooperation from Ghanaian authorities” in accepting their nationals ordered to be removed from the US.
From Monday, Ghanaian parliamentarians, members of the executive and their families applying for visas to travel on holiday or for business in the United States can only get a month’s single entry access.
Unlike the six months or more multiple-entry (B1, B2, and B1/B2) visas the US Embassy in Ghana issues to that category of persons, the embassy said the officials would now be restricted to only 30 days single-entry visas.
In addition, the US Embassy will discontinue issuing all non-immigrant visas (NIV) to domestic employees (A3 and G5) of Ghanaian diplomats posted in the United States, explaining that A3 and G5 visa applications would be processed, but no visas would be issued in those categories while these restrictions remain in effect.
The US has explained that the sanctions were pursuant with Section 243(d) of the U.S. 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 which Ghana is a signatory obligates the issuance of necessary travel documents to its citizens under deportation orders from another country.
According to the US government, the visa restrictions would be in force until the situation was resolved.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Attempts to obtain a response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration has not been successful.
While the minister, Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchway’s phone could not be reached, one of her deputies, Mr Charles Owiredu, could not answer when the Daily Graphic called.
At the time of going to press, the Daily Graphic gathered that the Foreign Affairs Ministry was preparing to issue a statement on the matter.
In 2017, the US indicated that some 7,000 Ghanaians were facing deportation for immigration offences, including abuses of the terms of their visas.
The immediate past US Ambassador to Ghana, Mr Robert Jackson, said the affected Ghanaians were at different stages of the deportation process.
There were later reports that a batch of deportees were handcuffed and forced aboard a plane to Ghana in 2017, though the US Embassy denied that any such inhumane treatment took place.
In August 2018, the US Embassy threatened to impose visa restrictions on Ghanaian citizens if the government failed to provide the travel documents to facilitate the deportation of her nationals.
The US contended that the Ghana government was not complying with international obligations regarding the issuance of travel documents to Ghanaians awaiting deportation in the USA.
And last Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) imposed travel restrictions on some category of Ghanaians.
"Pursuant to her authority under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen notified Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Government of Ghana has denied or unreasonably delayed accepting their nationals ordered removed from the United States.
"As a result, Secretary of State Pompeo has ordered consular officers in Ghana to implement visa restrictions on certain categories of visa applicants," a release issued by the DHS stated.
Ms Sullivan, however, clarified that the visa sanctions imposed by DHS on Ghana would not affect student visa applicants.
She added that current holders of US visa and government officials going to the US for official duty would also not be affected by the restrictions.
Touching on the concerns being raised that some of the 7,000 potential deportees may not all be Ghanaians, she said those people were all holders of Ghanaian passports.
“The US verifies the citizenship of its people, so it is the sovereign right of every country to verify the citizenship of their citizens too.
People who hold Ghanaian visas can only be seen as Ghanaians unless Ghana proves otherwise,” Ms Sullivan added.
She, however, gave an assurance that the US government was willing to cooperate with Ghana in all spheres of human endeavour to deepen the bilateral ties between the two countries.