Foreign embassies must review their visa policies now

A hand holds passports on a travel map. [Getty Images]

As a teenager, my dream to study abroad was shattered when I was denied a visa to a North American country after landing a scholarship.

Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” My only undoing then, was that I came from a poor family and they felt I would go to the country and not come back.

At the embassy, they threw my papers back at me without dignity and I cried. The experience from security guards to everyone who served me, was horrible.

The visa process is a colonial system to maintain the status quo that the poor remain poor and the rich remain rich. The rich will always travel and take their children to the schools they want.

I did not give up. I remembered the words of Marcus Garvey that “If you don’t have confidence in yourself, you are twice defeated in the race of life and that with confidence, you have won even before you have started”.

Finally, I went to the US and after studying, I came back to Kenya and to build my orgnisation, Shining Hope for Communities, that is now recognised world over, including in the US. I would later apply for renewal of my visa which also took a long time.

Many dreams are being shattered. These countries have a right to deny us their visa but we are asking for dignity where people have time to listen and avoid this colonial mentality.

There is a ray of hope and we have seen what is happening at the US embassy in Kenya. The US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman took less than two months to institute a raft of changes, aimed at expediting visa application.

Part of the changes saw individuals applying for visas being able to see interview wait times until their next appointment after the embassy updated its website to reflect the same.

Further, the site shows the type of fees that are non-refundable to allow Kenyans make informed decisions before submitting their application and paying the associated fees.

The US Embassy also instituted a visa renewal process that does not require in-person interviews of applicants with the change applying to Kenyans renewing visitor (B1/B2 category) or student visas (F category) whose visas expired less than one year ago.

The embassy also introduced expedited appointments for emergency situations, including death of an immediate family member, need to travel for urgent medical care, and for students whose programmes start in less than 30 days.

Kenyans are not begging. Indeed, President William Ruto has struck a deal with South Africa, allowing Kenyans to travel there visa-free. This is how you build strong diplomatic relations. With the youth getting easy access to such opportunities, it keeps them away from joining crime. Still, we must treat people with dignity and love.

The writer founder and CEO of Shofco and a member of USAid advisory board. [email protected]

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