Nine months since US President Donald Trump first introduced travel restrictions, Pakistan received 26 per cent fewer non-immigrant visas in 2017 in comparison to its monthly average in fiscal year 2016, a detailed analysis by Politico revealed.
The number of non-immigrant visas granted to majority-Muslim countries also dropped when compared to monthly average in 2016 with 33 out of 48 countries seeing a decline while the remaining 15 saw an increase. For countries targeted in the travel ban, the figure dropped 44 per cent.
But the data provided by the US State Department only shows the number of visas issued, not the number of applications received – making it impossible to find out whether more applications were rejected or if Muslims were reluctant to apply in the first place.
“The law does require you to err in the direction of refusing a case,” said a US State Department official “It’s possible that there were officers who were just harder to persuade and were being more cautious and refusing visas.”
The visa issuance is closely monitored by US Homeland Security Department, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, who can issue a ‘red light’ to halt any application. The department remains committed to facilitating the legitimate travel for international business travelers while ensuring the security of the US borders,” a US State Department official said.
According to Reaz Jafri, a New York City-based partner at the immigration law firm Withers Worldwide, many people from Muslim-majority countries were choosing not to come to the US, adding that he recently met several clients who “didn’t want to go through the hassle.”
“Besides denials, what you’re seeing is increasingly people go through background checks under a process called administrative processing,” said Jafri. “Business travelers, especially, they can’t operate in that type of uncertain environment… so they’re not travelling as much.”
Earlier this week, the US added Venezuela and Chad to the list in an attempt to discourage it being labeled as a ‘Muslim Ban’. The countries now include Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.
The US Statement Department data showed Iran to have been hit the hard due to travel ban imposed by Trump administration with a 37 per cent decline.
“Students are being impacted, family members, fiancees,” said Shayan Modarres, legal counsel for the National Iranian American Council. “This isn’t keeping America safe or making America more safe. This is just hurting America, and it’s self-inflicted damage.”
Yemen and Syria saw steepest drops while Somalia was down to 42 per cent from March to August 2017. Iraq, which was removed from the original ban, and US’s best ally in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia saw drops of 26 and 11 per cent respectively.
As per the information compiled by Politico, a notable drop can be seen in the number of visas issued to people from Muslim-majority countries overall, not just the ones targeted in the ban.
A Los Angeles-based immigration attorney and former counselor with a decade-worth of experience at the US State Department, David Strashnoy said he had seen longer wait times for people from Muslim nations who have been flagged for administration processing. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” he said, citing the administration’s stated commitment to combating terrorism. “This is one of the ways that they’re doing it, by vetting individuals from Muslim-majority countries more thoroughly than other countries.”
But he was unconvinced how it would prevent terrorism. “I could see if you’re trying to find the needle in a haystack, this is a way to do it,” he said. “But the consequence is… this extreme slowdown in the visa-processing machine.”
This article originally appeared on the Politico.