WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan are working to resolve an issue that may lead to new visa restrictions on some Pakistani citizens if left unresolved, officials said on Sunday.
Media reports claimed on Saturday that the United States had added Pakistan to a list of countries which face visa restrictions for refusing to take back their citizen deportees and visa overstayers.
The report said that an official notification posted on the US Federal Register this week may lead to refusal of visas to those Pakistani officials who oversee the country’s policy for accepting deportees.
But the US Embassy in Islamabad clarified that “consular operations in Pakistan remain normal and unchanged”.
In a statement posted on social media, the embassy said that “the matter noted in the Federal Register is a bilateral issue of ongoing discussions between the US and Pakistani governments. We are not going to get into the specifics of this issue”.
Pakistani officials contacted by Dawn expressed similar views, adding that Islamabad was “100 percent committed” to taking back those deportees who were Pakistani citizens.
Over the last 18 months, 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.
Pakistani officials explained that while the government accepts deportees whose citizenship can be proven, it insists on verifying the claims of those who do not have proper documentation to prove their ties to Pakistan.
Such cases involve Afghan refugees who were living in Pakistan before they came to the United States and Pakistanis who have been living in the Middle East for several generations.
“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.”
But as a diplomatic observer in Washington pointed out, “while the restriction may affect only a small number of people, it can do a major reputational damage to the country at a time when it’s trying to project a positive image”.
Since 1996, when the rule to facilitate the deportation of foreign nationals was amended, a total 318 applicants have faced visa restrictions, and sanctions have been imposed on 10 countries. These are Guyana (2001), The Gambia (2016), Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone (2017); Burma and Laos (2018); and Ghana and Pakistan (2019).
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2019