Arshad Mohammed and Yeganeh Torbati, Reuters, September 13, 2017
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday will stop issuing certain kinds of visas to some citizens of Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone because the nations are not taking back their citizens the United States wants to deport.
The cables, sent by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to consular officials around the world, said the four countries were “denying or unreasonably delaying” the return of their citizens, and that visa restrictions would be lifted in a country if it accepted its deportees.
“The Secretary determines the categories of applicants subject to the visa restrictions, and the categories differ slightly country by country,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in the news briefing on Tuesday.
The visa sanctions vary in severity, with Eritrea facing the harshest ones. Any Eritreans who apply in their own country for most U.S. business or tourist visas will be rejected, according to one of the cables.
“We are all surprised by the American authorities’ decision but the foreign minister is at this moment working so that the situation returns to normal,” Guinea government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara told Reuters.
“It must be understood that Guinea has never wanted to prevent the repatriation of its nationals who are in conflict with American law.”
In each case, there are exceptions for citizens of the four nations who apply for visas from outside their countries, as well as exceptions on humanitarian grounds or for travel “deemed in the interest of the United States.”
The new rules, which go into effect on Wednesday, do not affect visas that already have been granted.
Visa sanctions are allowed by U.S. immigration law to punish countries that refuse to accept their citizens back from the United States. In practice, the United States has rarely taken that step – just twice in the past decade and a half.
ICE has had to release roughly 2,137 Guineans and 831 Sierra Leone nationals, many with “serious criminal convictions.”
DHS officials say in some cases, the agency has had no choice but to release convicted criminals who served prison time but could not be returned to their home country because it refused to take them back.
The Trump administration has made it a priority to pressure reluctant countries to take back their citizens.