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Opinions of Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Columnist: Adu Koranteng

US embassy Accra: Fleecing poor in the name visa

The United States Embassy in Ghana has become notorious for refusing visas for Ghanaians in spite of the huge money they collect from the ordinary people they describe as Visa Applicants.

In Ghana, the US Embassy is nicknamed “Babylon Annex, due to the penchant for refusing Visas no matter the circumstance.

In a day, the United States embassy interviews more than one hundred applicants; allotting their interviews into sessions. The first one is held in the morning at 7:30 am and the second session in the afternoon at 1:30 pm. All the applicants per day are mandated to pay a sum of US$170 (one hundred and seventy Dollars ) or more depending on the type of Visa. Ghanaians pay this money before they can be able to apply electronically for the interview date. That is about a huge GHC640.00 (Six hundred and fourty Ghana cedis).

In January 2016, I received an invitation from the Funds for Investigative Journalism to participate in the Society of Environmental Journalists annual Conference in Sacramento California in the United States of America. The aim was to offer me the opportunity to attend the conference to upgrade my knowledge and meet other experience journalists to learn from their experience and also share my experience with other young American and world Journalists with regard to environmental journalism.

I tried getting advise from colleagues and friends about their experience at the US embassy with regard to Visa Acquisition. Almost the 15 people I spoke to told me that the US Embassy is a no go zone. That they will not give me the Visa if I don’t know any big time politician, government official who will call a top official there and speak to them to facilitate the process.

As a Journalists, I felt Its against the principles and the ethics of my profession to engage in these acts since it amounts to corruption. So I decided to gather my own documents and apply for the Visa in a genuine way. However what I experienced at the embassy made me believe my colleagues were right; and that Indeed If I had called a top politician to speak to a top Embassy Official, I would have been given the Visa without any difficulty.

On the 30th of June 2016 which was my interview appointment date I got to the US Embassy in Accra at 1:30 pm, the scheduled time and was made to go through some security checks and was allowed into the embassy, the Visa section. When I got there I saw a lot of people; about 55 in number, almost all of them were Ghanaians, I observed.

I saw one member of Parliament with his family and some two Military officers from Ghana in the Hall. They eventually had their Visa because of their diplomatic status.

In the hall I was made to join a long queue. We went through a process of thumbprint and photograph verification and were given some codes to wait for the next interview time with the Americans. Then I realized that there was one black American and one white American staff of the embassy taking care of the second queue that had been formed.

Then I realized that the black American staff would hurriedly call the applicants and in two or three minutes tell them “ I am sorry you are not qualified for an American Visa try again next time” almost the eight applicants who went to see this man before me were refused Visa . However I was so confident that I would get mine because all my documents were available and intact.

When it got to my turn, I walked to him confidently and gave him all my documents. He went through them one after the other. He checked and re checked. For almost four minutes this man was checking my documents. Then he asked me: Are you a Journalists? I answered yes, and pointed to the introductory letter from my office which he looked at.

I then realized that the embassy hadn't even bothered to call my office to even verify my status as a journalists. He did not even cross check my information. Then he asked me for how long have you been practicing? I said eleven years, (since 2005). Where are you going? He asked, Sacramento California. For What? I said to attend the conference and training of the Society of Environmental Journalists conference on the environment . For How long will you be staying. I said five days. Depart on 18th September and return on 26th September.

Then he asked me: Are you married? I said yes, with children. Have you traveled before? Yes. Where? Then I mentioned. This continued for almost 12 minutes and then he finally asked me: Who is funding your trip? and I mentioned Funds For Investigative Journalism,(FIJ) and I pointed to the invitation letters.

Then he to told me "I am sorry you are not qualified to enter into the United states of America. He did not even give me any reason why I was not qualified to enter the United states of America. I then asked, pardon? Then I saw him signal one security officer who came and stood behind me in an attempt to whisk me away. So I walked away gently.

I was shocked this was coming from a so called most civilized country in the world that claims glory in everything related to human right and dignity. Or is it an act of racism against me for being a blackman?

Meanwhile they have taken my US$170 dollars which would have paid for the school fees of my four year old son for this academic term. And they are going to use this money to develop their civilized country and feed their America people.

In fact I had and went to the Embassy with two invitation letters: One from FIJ and the other one from the society of Environmental Journalists; two big Journalism institutions in the United States. Interestingly these people from the embassy did not even mind to cross check from these institutions about the letters before the interview.

I was flabbergasted that an embassy belonging to a nation that is more concerned about security will not even attempt to cross check information given to them by an applicant.

When he denied me the VISA I went back and sat down for a while and observed what was going on. I realized that out of the 50 applicants that came to the embassy that afternoon, less than five were given Visa to travel, meanwhile, their application fee amounting to US$ 170 dollars per applicants were not refunded to them.

So that day alone, the embassy made a gain of US$17,000 from the one hundred applicants that visited the embassy for the interview. When you multiply this amount by 30 days, it implies that the US Embassy generates close to US$170,000 dollars alone from Visa Applicants from Ghana in one month. Wow! Such a huge money. When you multiply this amount by one year, you get such a huge sum of about US$ 5.1 million dollars only from Ghana. And 80% of those who apply for Visa are refused.

These barbaric acts in this era of human civilization must stop because we are all one people with blood flowing through our veins. The Member of Parliament is not bigger than the Journalist. As a journalist, I don’t have to call a top politician or government official to call the ambassador or the head of the VISA section to talk to before I am given a Visa if my documents are right and accurate.

I can’t believe these things are practiced by a civilized country like America, described as the epitome of knowledge and civilization. Even the banana Republics don’t engage in such practices. This must stop immediately and I urge Ghanaians to rise up and fight this canker in our society.

We must demonstrate against it and I am ready to organize interest groups to demonstrate against it. If you refuse me visa give me back my money. If you refuse me my money, it amounts to extortion which is illegal and amounts to corruption? It must stop.

The United States of America must change and desist from such practices since they are immoral and unethical.

“For about eleven years I have been working as a journalist writing articles and feature stories to seek the wellbeing of the poor and the abused in society and those who’s human rights have been trampled upon. So why don’t I do same for myself if my rights have been trampled upon. I will fight till I get justice. I know that this time around they will call my employers to either call for my suspension or whatever, but I don’t care . I will speak my mind because I feel cheated.

If you refuse me the Visa, give me back my money. After my ordeal, I realized that many journalists in Ghana have gone through similar ordeal but are afraid to talk about it but not me. I will say it as it is . America, a nation that claims to be fighting for press freedom is now abusing the right of press men in Ghana’.

The Writer is an investigative Journalist working with the New Crusading Guide Newspaper He is also specialized in economic and environmental reporting.

He is a member of the Institute of the institute of Financial and Economic Journalists in Ghana. Email-korantengadu@yahoo.com