US mulls restoring visa regime after Pak relaxation.
ISLAMABAD -- The United States is considering to restore the previous visa regime after Pakistan has promised to grant long-term visas to the US nationals, officials said.
Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Washington had promised to reconsider the recent changes in which visa validity for some categories including the visas for journalists was reduced to months from five years.
'They (the US) are reconsidering this and hopefully we will have the previous visa regime restored soon,' said one official.
Another official said that Pakistan had offered the five-year visa to the US nationals to get the same facility for the Pakistanis.
This week, Pakistan decided to issue five-year visas to US businessmen and tourists. The government expects to increase investment and tourism in the country in line with the Prime Minister Imran Khan's vision.
US embassy spokesperson Richard Snelsire said the US had been issuing five-year tourist and business visas to Pakistanis for years and 'are pleased that Pakistan is now planning on issuing five-year visas for American tourists and business travelers.'
Talking to The Nation, he said: 'We changed from five-year validity for journalist visas to three months in March because the government of Pakistan only provides three-month validity visas to American journalists. The change was based on reciprocity. Discussions regarding this issue are ongoing.'
For the last few weeks, Pakistan and the US have been in talks to resolve the visa and the deportees' issue.
Last month, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said that the US had imposed no visa ban on Pakistanis. He however, said the US had banned visas for three high-level Pakistani officials including the joint secretary of the foreign ministry. 'The ban was imposed for not taking back Pakistani immigrants who are illegally residing in US,' he added.
On the US deporting Pakistanis, the foreign minister said that 70 illegal immigrants will be returning to Pakistan. 'The United States has arranged a special chartered plane to send these immigrants back to Islamabad from Texas. The individuals were detained and prosecuted for immigration violations, criminal conduct and other serious charges,' he elaborated.
Last month, the US had imposed sanctions on Pakistan as latter had refused to take back its citizen deportees and visa over-stayers. 'Consular operations in Pakistan remain unchanged. This is a bilateral issue of ongoing discussion between the US and Pakistani governments and we are not going to get into the specifics at the time,' a State Department spokesperson said.
According to the State Department's federal register notification, dated April 22, 'for some countries sanctions begin by targeting officials who work in the ministries responsible for accepting the return of that country's nationals with escalation scenarios that target family members of those officials and potentially officials of other ministries and then other categories of applicants if initial sanctions do not prove effective at encouraging greater cooperation on removals by the targeted government.'
In March the US had revised its visa policy for Pakistani citizens, introducing a fee hike and changes in duration of visa validity for different categories.
According to the March notification issued by the US Embassy in Islamabad, the visa duration for Pakistani journalists had been reduced from five years to three months, and the validity for work and missionary visas has also been reduced to one year from five years. However, there was no change in the validity for tourist, trade and student visas; they will be issued multiple visas valid for five years.
The revised US visa policy is a reciprocal move as Pakistan also issues visas valid for three months to US journalists. The visa fee has also been increased, from $160 to $193, depending on visa category.
According to a public notice issued by the US Embassy in Pakistan, the embassy has revised the visa issuance policy with effect from January 21. An additional fee will be charged for H (Temporary Work Visa), I (Journalist and Media Visa), L (Intercompany Transfer Visa), and R (Religious Worker Visa) visas.
Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal the deportation of Pakistani nationals from US, was part of the bilateral agenda between the two countries for quite some time. 'Pakistan's position has been consistent and clear that only those individuals can be deported to Pakistan who have exhausted all legal remedies to stay in the US and have also been duly verified by the Pakistan as Pakistani nationals,' he remarked. Over the weekend, the US Department of State said that they were implementing enhanced screening procedure according to which, all applicants now have to submit their social media handles.
According to the statement issued by the US, the new rule would add an extra security measurement which would eventually help to eliminate anyone having questionable content on their profiles. This is mandatory for all applicants, including those who are on a temporary visit.