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US to continue normal consular operations in Pakistan: MoFA

News Desk |

Ministry of Foreign Affairs has clarified that the United States will continue the normal consular operations at the US Embassy in the federal capital and ongoing discussions on consular matters, including repatriation, do not affect the issuance of visas to routine Pakistani applicants.

In a press release issued on April 28, the ministry said that the conclusions drawn in the media reports on a notification issued by the US Federal Registry regarding the “introduction of new rules” were misleading.

“There are ongoing discussions between Pakistan and the United States on consular matters including repatriation issues,” the foreign office said. “Both countries are working bilaterally on these issues consistent with their respective laws and have made considerable progress.”

Pakistani officials in Washington told Dawn that Islamabad was “100 percent committed” to taking back those deportees who were Pakistani citizens. Over the last 18 months, they said, the United States has deported more than 100 Pakistani citizens in two flights. A third flight is scheduled to leave for Pakistan sometime next month with 50 more deportees.

Read more: US-EU start a Visa War

“The US visa restriction, if imposed, may apply to some officials in the interior ministry,” said a Pakistani official when asked for comments. “It may not affect private citizens.”

Going to America, US ‘May’ Withhold Visa

It was reported that the US has imposed sanctions on Pakistan after Islamabad refused to take back its citizen deportees and visa over-stayers from America, warning that it may withhold visas of Pakistanis beginning from its senior officials.

The State Department on Friday said that consular operations in Pakistan remain “unchanged” as of now but as a result of such a sanction mentioned in a Federal Register notification dated April 22, the US may withhold visas of Pakistanis beginning with its senior officials, the media reported.

Pakistan is the latest to join the list of 10 nations that have been imposed with sanctions under a US law, according to which, countries refusing to take back deportees and visa over-stayers will be denied American visas.

Read more: US delays returning asylum seekers to Mexico

Notably, eight of these countries have been slapped with such visa sanctions under the Trump administration. Two of them, Ghana and Pakistan have been included in the list this year. The other countries include Guyana in 2001, the Gambia in 2016, Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone in 2017, Burma and Laos in 2018.

What Does Law Say?

Under Section 243 (d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Secretary of State is required to discontinue granting immigration or non-immigrant visas to a nation upon receiving notice from the Homeland Security Secretary that the country has denied or is unreasonably delaying accepting a citizen, subject, national or resident of that country.

Elaborating the process, the media reports stated, the secretary could order consular officers to discontinue granting B-1 and B-2 visas for personal travel by ministers of a foreign government, with an escalation measure that requires discontinuation of F-category student visas for members of the same foreign officials’ families after 6 months, if the country remains uncooperative on removals.

Read more: New visa policy: China, Turkey, Malaysia and 45 other countries to enjoy visa on…

In the instant case, the international media reported, the State Department has tried to downplay the impact of the sanctions on Pakistan. The matter has been under discussion between officials from the two sides for over a year.

On the issue of consular matters, including repatriation, Pakistani officials at the embassy said 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.

US Reduces Visa Validity for Pakistanis

In March this year, the US had reduced visa validity for Pakistani citizens from five years to 12 months. The US embassy in Islamabad had said that the journalists and media persons would not be allowed to stay in the country for over three months without renewing the travel permit.

In addition, the embassy had said, an additional fee would also be charged for H (Temporary Work Visa), I (Journalist and Media Visa), L (Intercompany Transfer Visa), and R (Religious Worker Visa) visas only if the visa application was approved.

Read more: US denying visas to International Criminal Court investigators

It was reported that the decision was taken by the State Department “because Pakistan was unable to liberalize its visa regime for certain visa categories … the United States was required by US law on January 21 to reduce the visa validity and increase the visa fees to match Pakistan’s practices for similar visa categories.”