US warns Pakistan of new visa restrictions

WASHINGTON (Monitoring Desk): The United States has 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 are mentioned in the Federal Register notification updated earlier this week. Pakistan is the latest in the list of nine other countries that are facing sanctions imposed by the Trump administration under the rule, according to which countries refusing to take back deportees and visa over-stayers will be denied US 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). During this same time period, tens of millions of aliens have received nonimmigrant visas including, collectively, millions of applicants from the 10 countries affected,” the Federal Register’s rules and regulations say.

It is further mentioned that under Section 243 (d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Secretary of State is required to discontinue granting immigrant or non-immigrant visas to a nation after notification from the 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, adding 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 the Department of Homeland Security lies with the State Department. It is also not yet clear how the State Department will deal with Pakistan in this case, but historically, the Secretary of State has strategically tailored 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. 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, adding 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 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 added.

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 US authorities if they need to travel outside of the imposed 25-mile radius.