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Kenyan writes to incoming US ambassador over visa frustration

Amakove Wala is a medical doctor in Kenya. [Courtesy of Amakove]

A Kenyan national has written an open letter to the incoming US Ambassador to Kenya Margaret Whitman highlighting her frustrations arising from visa delays.

Elizabeth Amakove Wala, a medical doctor in Kenya, wrote her letter to Whitman on Saturday, July 16 on Twitter.

The US Senate on Thursday, July 14 approved Margaret Whitman’s posting to Kenya by President Joe Biden.

Margaret Whitman’s appointment as US Ambassador to Kenya was approved by the Senate on July 14, 2022. [Courtesy]

In her post, titled an open letter to Whitman, Amakove said: “In June 2022, one of my daughters qualified to attend the World’s Scholar Cup Global Round in Dubai, a debate and creative writing competition. She attended the competition. She, thereafter, qualified for the grand finale called the Theatre of Champions in Yale, USA, to be held in November 2022.”

The World's Scholar Cup (abbreviated WSC) is an international team academic programme with more than 15,000 students participating from over 65 countries every year.

“When we (my daughter and I) came back [from Dubai], I immediately embarked on a journey to start the visa process. I needed an invitation letter from Global Scholar Cup, which was sent immediately. I then applied [for a US visa] in the system for both of us. The total amount of money for the visa was Sh38,400.

“Lo and behold, the next available slot for an appointment was May 2024. I was in shock. Of what use was this appointment when the event is scheduled for November 2022? [Mark you], the visa fees are only valid for one year.

“I was told to apply for an expedited appointment, and I did. The response from the embassy was swift: appointment denied. I was told by friends to keep checking the appointment schedule for any opening between 11pm and 6am in the morning; that I could be lucky and get a 2023 date. What kind of life is that? Dear madam ambassador, the embassy is making billions of [Kenyan] shillings from Kenyans through these delays in appointments,” she said.

“I know my daughter will be disappointed. All I am asking for is a change in the system to get people to pay when they are due for the appointment; to refund the application fee to people like us who give up when given a two-year [waiting] date. I hope this letter gets to you.”

The visa delay conversation escalated on social media recently when Kenya’s 100m superstar, Ferdinand Omanyala, almost missed out on the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA over visa hitch.

On their official embassy website, the United States said there has been a backlog in processing visas due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We ask for your patience as we are faced with significant backlog of cases resulting from closures due to Covid-19. All applicants should expect delays in most stages of visa processing,” the Embassy said.

“The US Mission to Kenya understands that many visa applicants have paid the visa application processing fee and are still waiting to schedule a visa appointment. We are working diligently to restore all routine visa operations as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we have extended the validity of your payment (known as the MRV fee) until September 30, 2022, to allow all applicants, who were unable to schedule a visa appointment as a result of the suspension of routine consular operations, an opportunity to schedule and/or attend a visa appointment with the already-paid fee,” said the US Embassy on their website.

In Amakove’s case, because the visa need was urgent, her only hope was the expedited appointment.

“If you have an urgent need to travel [to the US] because of an emergency, please go to our Global Support Website and apply for an expedited appointment,” the embassy says on their website.

Amakove would be categorised under applicants “travelling to support a major entertainment product conducted in the United States”.

Visa Grader estimates that it could take a US visa applicant in Nairobi at least 174 days for his or her application to be processed.

A visitor visa takes the longest time (687 days), student/exchange visitor visa (665 days) and all other non-immigrant visas (174 days).

The estimates by Visa Grader were last updated on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

“The US visa appointment wait times can change weekly based on workload and staff availability,” says Visa Grader.

The new US Ambassador to Kenya, Margaret Whitman, takes over from Kyle McCarter, who left in January 2021 after Donald Trump lost the presidential election to Joe Biden.

Kyle McCarter is the immediate former US Ambassador to Kenya. [File, Standard]

Whitman is a 65-year-old business executive who previously served as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP), an American multinational information technology company.

As of June 2022, Forbes estimated that she had a net worth of $3 billion (Sh355 billion).