About 100 top African government officials and speakers were denied U.S. visas to attend the African Global Economic and Development Summit 2017 last week at the University of Southern California.
The annual conference, scheduled to take place on March 16th, was canceled at the last minute due to the lack of African representatives, according VOA News.
“I have to say that most of us feel it’s a discrimination issue with the African nations. We experience it over and over, and the people being rejected are legitimate business people with ties to the continent,” said Mary Flowers, chairperson of the African Global and Economic Development Summit.
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Although some people have linked this blanket denial to the recent travel ban issued by U.S. President Donald Trump, it is not uncommon for people traveling from African nations to be denied visas by the United States.
Flowers says she has often had to deal with a low turnout of African delegates because they are unable to obtain visas. She says those who were denied visas had been called for embassy interviews just days before their travel dates, despite having applied for the visas months ahead of time.
“Usually we get 40 percent that get rejected, but the others come. This year, it was 100 percent. Every delegation. And it was sad to see, because these people were so disheartened,” Flowers said.
Prince Kojo Hilton, a renowned Ghanaian artist, says he had already paid $500 to attend the summit, where he was supposed to lead a session on filmmaking.
Hilton says he hesitated to buy his plane ticket until he was invited for an interview at the embassy on March 13th, just four days to his travel date.
Other countries affected include Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa.
Security & Administrative Issues
It is still not clear why all would-be African delegates were denied visas this year, and the U.S. State Department has reportedly not been available for comments.
On its website, however, the U.S. State Department advises people who wish to travel to the United States to apply for their visas early to avoid delay:
Recent changes in U.S. laws governing visa policy and procedures have increased the amount of time it can take to obtain a visa. Even with the visa processing improvements that have been made and will continue to be made, it is inevitable that delays will sometimes occur,” the statement reads in part.
The Department further insists that while its goal is to deliver visas within 30 days from the time of application, some cases that require administrative processing could take longer.
It goes on to say that the administrative process varies based on individual circumstances.