In 2001, the Government of Guyana was concerned about the arrival of large numbers of deportees from the United States. The United States was offering no assistance to reintegrate these persons, many of whom had spent the greater part of their lives in the United States and had limited ties to Guyana.
Many of these persons were being brought back to Guyana and had limited means of being reintegrated back into society. There was the other concern about deportees and crime. Within the Caribbean, there had been concerns expressed about the rise in violent crime linked with deportees from the United States.
As such, the Government of Guyana pussyfooted with the paperwork which was required to facilitate the return of deportees from the United States. Efforts by the United States government to have the process expedited was unsuccessful. The US government therefore decided to apply some pressure on the Guyanese government, because unless it did so, these persons would have had to be released into the general US population, since US law did not allow them to be held indefinitely.
The United States had an old law, which had hardly ever been used, which allowed it to impose visa restrictions on countries designated as uncooperative in accepting the return of their deported nationals. It was under this 1952 law that Guyana was threatened with visa sanctions on government officials and their families.
In response to the threat, the Guyana government quickly got the necessary paperwork in place. A steady trek of deportees has continued ever since and the US has never had reason to impose visa sanctions on Guyana.
Visa sanctions are normally applied against government officials and their families. But they can also be applied to other persons, as was the case recently with Eritrea, where visa sanctions were slapped on all of its citizens because of that government’s refusal to cooperate with the US immigration authorities.
The use of visa sanctions have intensified since Donald Trump became President. Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone have been slapped with visa sanctions for their non-cooperation in the return of their nationals who were convicted of serious criminal offences in the United States.
Pakistan was threatened with such sanctions in April of this year. Ghana was slapped with limited visa sanctions in February this year.
The United States is using visa sanctions, and the threat of visa sanctions, to ensure that foreign countries accept their nationals who are required to be deported back home. But visa sanctions are also being employed for other purposes, including attempts at undermining democracy.
Last month, the United States government imposed visa sanctions on unnamed individuals in Nigeria over their alleged conduct in undermining democracy in that country. A US State Department spokesperson was quoted as saying that the persons targeted, undermined democratic principles and human rights.
Guyanese, therefore, should not get too comfortable and feel that Guyana is not likely to be slapped with visa sanctions because of the political crisis, which is expected come September 18, 2019. Four weeks ago, the United States House of Representatives passed an Act, which would allow for sanctions against the government for issues relating to democracy.
Guyanese should recall also that in 2003, some 85 individuals were slapped with visa sanctions for undermining democratic institutions in Zimbabwe.
There are two issues which are likely to arise as a result of the Guyana government being designated as holding on to office illegally come September 18, 2019. The first is that when a country has a political crisis, more of its nationals tend to want to get out.
Countries therefore tend to tighten their immigration processes against countries who are in the midst of a political crisis, since they are fearful of an influx of persons escaping the political crisis.
Once there is no political agreement to extend the life of the government in Guyana beyond September 18, 2019, foreign countries are going to be concerned about an increase in persons wanting to escape the political crisis. Already scores of ordinary Guyanese are complaining that since Trump became President, it is more difficult to obtain a visitor’s visa to the United States.
The second issue is that once a government is designated as illegal, it cannot be business as usual with foreign governments. These foreign governments, particularly the United States, are insistent that democratic governance be restored. And visa sanctions, as we have seen, can be used a tool to ensure the restoration of democratic governance.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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