40pc decline in US visas for Pakistanis

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WASHINGTON: Despite not being on the list of President Trump’s “Muslim ban” countries, Pakistan is experiencing a significant decrease in a number of non-immigrant US visas issued to its nationals under the new administration.

An analysis of newly released official figures shows non-immigrant visas granted to Pakistanis are down by 40 percent in March and April this year compared to the 2016 monthly average.

The State Department data shows that Pakistanis were issued 3,925 non-immigrant visas in April and 3,973 visas in March this year under the Trump administration. The data shows that Obama administration last year issued a total of 78,637 non-immigrant visas to Pakistanis with a monthly average of 6,553, 40% higher than the current average.

Before March this year, the State Department did not release monthly breakdowns of visas and only annual figures were available. So this correspondent compared the March and April 2017 figures with monthly averages for 2016. Even in 2015, monthly average remained 6,179 as a total of 74,150 Pakistanis had been granted visas.

When contacted by the media, a spokesperson for the State Department said: “Visa demand is cyclical, not uniform throughout the year, and affected by various factors at the local and international level. Visa issuance numbers tend to increase during peak travel seasons, such as during the summer and the winter holidays, though there may be different trends in the country, nationality, or visa category level,” the spokesperson said.

Interestingly, the number of non-immigrant visas has increased for India by 28% in March and April this year as compared to the monthly average of 2016. The state Department data shows Indian nationals received 87,049 visas in April and 97,925 visas in March. Last year, people from India received 72,082 non-immigrant visas each month on average with an annual total of 864,987 visas.

Pakistan is not the only Muslim country experiencing a decline in non-immigrant US visas. A similar analysis of 50 Muslim-majority countries reveals that the number of visas issued to their nationals has also declined by 20% in April as compared to their monthly country average last year.

Six countries targeted by Trump’s March 6 travel ban — Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen experienced 55% decline in non-immigrant visas compared with last year’s monthly average.

The State Department data does not show how many people had been rejected non-immigrant visas from Pakistan and other Muslim countries in March and April so it is hard to guess whether the decline in number is caused by rejection of visas or it shows a lack of interest among nationals of these countries in visiting the United States under the new administration.

Although President Trump’s travel ban is now ineffective after the US federal courts’ orders, the State Department has already stepped up vetting procedures for visitors to the United States. The experts believe that drop in visas may indicate that more visa applicants are now subject to excessive scrutiny.

A week after assuming office President Trump had issued an executive order barring visitors from Iraq, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. US Federal court blocked the order after massive protests, terming the order discriminatory against Muslims. A revised softer executive order issued on March 6 also met the similar fate.

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