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As visa fear festers, fewer Jamaicans applying for US travel permits

Published:Sunday | April 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM
David Stone (left), US Embassy consul general, and Laurence Tobey, deputy consul general, speak to members of the media during a tour at the embassy on Friday. - Rudolph Brown/ Photographer

Tyrone Reid, Sunday Gleaner Reporter

THE UNITED States Embassy in Kingston has confirmed, what many in the streets already knew, fewer Jamaicans are applying for US visas. But, while the word in the streets is that this is linked to the stand-off between Washington and Kingston over the extradition request for West Kingston strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the US Embassy says that this is not so.

Laurence Tobey, chief of the visa section at the US Embassy, is claiming that the reduction in applications is part of a regular cycle and not because of recent developments.

"We've seen a little bit of a drop recently, but we attribute that to seasonal patterns. It is very easy to draw conclusions like this, and it is very easy to get it wrong," said Tobey in reference to the Dudus impasse.

During a media tour of the embassy's Old Hope Road compound last Friday, US officials steered clear of providing specific figures on the number of visa applications that have been approved; however, The Sunday Gleaner learned that "significantly more than half of the 110,000 persons", who applied last year, were issued non-immigrant visas.

Increase in 2008-09

Tobey said that between 2008 and 2009, the number of applications for non-immigrant visas increased by 22,000.

As the fear that the US is clamping down on visas because of the Dudus stand-off festers, it is also widely believed that the visa revocation of at least one prominent businessman and five leading entertainers is related to the same issue.

However, the US Embassy officials made it clear that visas are not turned down for political reasons.

"No visa is issued or no application is denied for political reasons. We don't give visas, people qualify for them (and) there is no quota," said David Stone, consul general at the US Embassy.

"What matters is what people say, and if what they say makes sense," Tobey emphasised.

Stone stressed that if 100,000 applicants made their way to the embassy and they all qualified, none would be turned away.

Tobey explained that a visa is granted or denied under the statutes of the Immigration and Nationality Act passed by Congress in 1952.

"The way Congress wrote the act, the burden of proof is on the applicant. The officer doesn't have to justify the decision," Tobey explained.

He admitted that there have been cases where an applicant who was turned down was eventually granted a visa after a supervisory review of the case was conducted.

These reviews are conducted on all applications. While an individual cannot appeal a decision made by the consular officer, the supervisory review is there to ensure that the American immigration laws governing the issuance of visas are applied in their proper context.

Trained officers

Tobey also revealed that every consular officer goes through a nine-week training course designed to give him or her an intimate understanding of the immigration laws that govern the issuance of visas.

Some of the officers were lawyers before moving into the foreign services field by joining the embassy staff, he added.

In addition to the 110,000 applications for non-immigrant visas last year, the US Embassy also processed 11,000 applications for immigrant visas, which allow a person to reside permanently in the US.

Tobey explained that the successful applicants were given the famous green card, which, he quipped, was no longer green but white, and has been that colour for a while.