Pakistan among Muslim countries feeling impact of US visa policy

WASHINGTON: Pakistan is among the countries which have witnessed a notable drop in the number of visa issued to people from majority-Muslim countries, a report by online magazine POLITICO shows, as President Trump’s heated rhetoric also seems to discourage Muslim travelers from applying for visa to the United States.

Pakistan received 26 percent fewer non-immigrant visas in 2017 compared with its monthly average in fiscal year 2016, according to the data compiled by the magazine. However, some Muslim countries, received increases in non-immigrant visas including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

A New York City-based attorney, Reaz Jafri, who deals with clients from Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia among other countries told POLITICO that many people from majority-Muslim countries now choose not to come to the United States as they do not want to go through the “hassle” of applying for a US visa.

Jafri said he has also seen four visa denials in 2017 due to alleged connections to terror groups, including one application from a prominent businessman. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, he said. “I’ve not seen a terrorist-related denial for a client, ever. “ I’m not sure what’s happening with regards to database analysis and collection,” he was quoted as saying by POLITICO.

During his election campaign in 2015, candidate Trump called for a total ban on Muslims from travelling to the United States that drew sharp criticism worldwide. After taking over the White House in January this year, President Trump issued an executive order imposing a 90-day ban from seven majority-Muslim nations Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. That order was blocked by a federal judge a week later.

After months of legal battle, and following several executive orders, the Trump administration was able to obtain permission but it dropped Iraq from the list. In a revised instructions issued this week, the administration also dropped Sudan from the list and added Chad. In addition, two more nations – North Korea and Venezuela – had been added to the list of travel ban.

But, according to POLITCO, the travel ban has not just discouraged people from targeted majority-Muslim countries, but other Muslim countries as well. Similarly, the number of denial have also seen rise in other Muslim countries, including Pakistan.

“From March to August 2017, the number of visa granted to visitors from majority-Muslim countries dropped in comparison to the 2016 monthly average. Of the 48 nationalities analyzed, 33 experienced a decline while only 15 were up from last year’s monthly average,” the report said.

“Non-immigrant visas to people from all Arab nations fell 16 percent and the number issued to people from the world’s nearly 50 majority-Muslim countries fell 8 percent, even as the number issued to people from all nations was virtually unchanged.

The visitor visa, known as non-immigrant visa, are issued principally to business travelers, tourists and students.

According to the report, the data by the State Department only show the number of visa issued, but not the number of applications and it is, therefore, impossible to know whether more applications were rejected or President Trump’s hardline policies discouraged Muslims to apply in the first place.