Pakistan is among a handful of Muslim countries that are feeling the pinch of United States (US) President Donald Trump’s visa ban about six months in, with 26 per cent fewer non-immigrant visas issued to Pakistanis in 2017 as compared to previous year’s average, according to a Politico analysis.
Trump passed an executive order at the beginning of the year which initially barred travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Sudan. In successive iterations of the ban, Iraq and Sudan were dropped from the list and Chad, North Korea and Venezuela were added to it.
Data collected and analysed by Politico showed a “notable drop” in the number of visas issued to people from Muslim-majority countries overall, in addition to those targeted by Trump’s travel ban, with Arab states among the hardest hit.
Although Pakistan is not on the list of countries that were barred, it ─ along with a few other South Asian countries ─ has also seen a decline in the number of visas issued to travellers.
The issuance of visas to the seven countries initially named in the ban dropped 44pc this year compared to monthly average data from March to August in fiscal year 2016, Politico reported, with Syria and Yemen seeing the steepest declines.
Visitor visas to Arab nations fell 16pc, while the number of visas issued to people from 50 Muslim-majority countries in general dropped 8pc.
Iran witnessed a 37pc decline in the number of visas issued over the six-month period in 2017 compared to March-Aug 2016, whereas Somalia saw a 42pc drop in visas in the same time period, the report said.
Some Muslim countries, however, including the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, were among those that witnessed an increase in non-immigrant visas, the data showed.
Interestingly, the number of total visas issued remained virtually unchanged, according to Politico.
A New York City-based partner at Withers Worldwide, an immigration law firm, Riaz Jafri, told Politico he found that many people from Muslim-majority countries now choose not to travel to the US. He recalled meeting clients abroad who “didn’t want to go through the hassle” of applying for a US visa.
Jafri also observed people increasingly going through “background checks under a process called administrative processing” ─ a form of extended vetting that may take up to eight to 10 weeks for some of his clients.
Jafri, whose clients’ nationalities include Pakistani, Indian, Malaysian, Indonesian and others, noted that he had seen four visa denials this year which were attributed to alleged links to terror groups, including a visa application from a prominent businessman, Politico reported.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I’ve not seen a terrorist-related denial for a client, ever,” he said.
Additionally, he pointed out that that the time taken by extended vetting is a hindrance to business travellers. “They can’t operate in that type of uncertain environment, so they’re not travelling as much,” he said.
Los Angeles-based immigration attorney David Strashnoy ─ a former consular officer who worked at the US State Department for nearly a decade ─ said he had seen longer wait times for people from Muslim countries who were flagged for administrative processing.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence… This is one of the ways that they’re doing it [combating terrorism], by vetting individuals from Muslim-majority countries more thoroughly than other countries.”
“The consequence is… This extreme slowdown in the visa-processing machine,” he added.
However, he said it was unclear whether the tougher measures would actually help prevent terrorism.
Politico’s analysis is based on visa data provided by the State Department. The magazine compared the average number of non-immigrant visas issued from March to August 2017 with the corresponding time period in 2016.
“Experts consulted for this story said the six-month sample offered an informative picture of visa issuances,” Politico said.
The data does not take into account the number of visa applications, which makes it impossible to assess the difference in visa application rejections before and after the travel ban.