MPs denied US visa over drugs, terrorism links

The National Assembly sitting during the reading of this year's Budget. [File, Standard]

At least five MPs have been barred from travelling to the US in a move that signals their failure to meet the multiple criteria – many of them criminal - that the world’s most powerful nation has set for denial of travel visas.

The MPs alongside five parliamentary staff were denied US visas last month when they sought to travel as part of the large Kenyan delegation that was to attend an international conference in Tennessee.

The list of those affected by the US action includes a first term MP as well as those serving their second and third terms in Parliament. 

US authorities are known to deny foreigners visas if they have sufficient information pointing to their involvement in drugs trade, linked to extremist groups or are beneficiaries of the proceeds of crime.

MPs, who had their visa applications rejected, are from the National Assembly and the Senate, while the affected parliamentary employees were from the clerks’ office and from the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC).

Largest delegation

Speakers Justin Muturi (National Assembly) and Ken Lusaka (Senate) led the Kenyan delegation, the largest that attended the State Capitol meeting.

It has also emerged that more MPs were initially in trouble with the visa application but some were cleared after high-level intervention.

“Some applications were rejected. We contacted the consular services to lodge a complaint. Some were reviewed while others are still undergoing review,” said a source familiar with the travel plans.

Foreign missions do not ordinarily discuss individual immigration statuses of visa applicants, but some of the affected individuals have since spoken to their friends about their exclusion from travelling to the US.

A legislator from the Coast region told a senior parliamentary staff that the US authorities had linked him to extremist activities of outlawed groups terrorising locals.

The US says in its official website that it denies foreigners travel visas if there is evidence that they have breached sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as well as on health, criminal and security related grounds.

The INA establishes the types of visas available for travel to the US and the conditions that must be met before an applicant is issued the vital travel document.

Situations that disqualify applicants for US visa are found in the INA, and other immigration laws.

The US embassy in Nairobi states on its website that an applicant’s current and/or past actions, such as drug or criminal activities, may render ineligible for a visa but one can seek a review when visa application is denied.

National Assembly clerk Michael Sialai said he was not aware of any legislator from the National Assembly who was denied a visa.

“The visa application is a personal matter and it is, therefore, difficult to know to know the grounds of denial,” said Mr Sialai.

Senate Clerk Jeremiah Nyegenye gave a similar response. 

Sialai said that whenever an MP or staff wishes to travel out of the country on official duties, the institution facilitates the application for the relevant visa.

“The office of the clerk formally introduces such applicants but the decision to issue a visa lies solely with the country being visited,” he said, adding that any challenges with application are usually communicated directly to the individual.

Ineligible applicants

“In the case of the recent NCSL conference I am not aware of any member of the National Assembly that was not issued with visa to travel,” Sialai said.

The INA also contains provisions for certain ineligible applicants to apply for waivers of their ineligibility.

In the event of a waiver application, the applicant maybe ineligible for a visa based on one or more of the INA laws. 

Besides, the category of the visa applied for often determines the availability of a waiver of ineligibility. 

“The consular officer interviewing you will tell you if you may apply for a waiver and will provide detailed instructions for how to apply,” the embassy says on the website.

When the consular officer determines that the applicant is ineligible to receive a visa, the visa application is denied and the applicant is informed both verbally and in writing of the reason for denial.

US visa regulations require applicants to be interviewed by a consular officer at a US Embassy or Consulate. After relevant information is reviewed, the application is approved or denied, based on standards established in law.

“While the vast majority of visa applications are approved, US law spells out many grounds upon which a visa application may be denied,” the embassy says.

“An application may be denied because the consular officer does not have all of the information required to determine if the applicant is eligible to receive a visa, because the applicant does not qualify for the visa category for which he or she applied, or because the information reviewed indicates the applicant falls within the scope of one of the inadmissibility or ineligibility grounds of the law.”