An Open letter to the Embassy of the United States in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Corruption appears to have reared its head at the American Embassy in Addis Ababa

By Yosef Yacob, PhD | September 18, 2012

For prospective foreign students and visitors, aside from the time and resources it takes to apply, the primary impediment to securing a student of visitor visa is often establishing their intent to return to their home country at the conclusion of their visit or study.

While consular officers have essentially unfettered discretion in determining eligibility for a visa, this can be done by showing the interviewing consular officer evidence of compelling ties to the home country, such as family, property, employment, etc.

However, with a high volume of visa applicants, this is often a difficult proposition, as an interview for a nonimmigrant visa can often last only a few minutes with very few questions from the interviewing officer.

The end outcome in most instances is a predictably harsh determination not based upon merit, facts, and evidence but rather dictated by the need for expeditious decisions.

In light of the circumstances, demanding pre-payment of visa fees US $160.00 [through Abyssinia Bank], and then summarily rejecting legitimate applications on the basis of predisposed decisions, have become routine practice at the US Embassy in Ethiopia.

Moreover, prospective students are also required to pay an additional US $200 00 SEVIS fees for each school to which they have been admitted [in order to secure the I-20 Form], before they are denied a visa after a brief 60 second interview by an arrogant and patronizing “Consular Officer”.

This payment is in addition to the [average $200.00] application fee paid to one or more institutions in the United States and the US $160.00 to take the TOEFEL Test, which the American Embassy demands of Africans.

Typically, after assuring that all visa and SEVIS fees had been paid, without a meaningful interview or explanation, the bewildered and outraged applicant is immediately handed a printed statement in Amharic, finding the applicant to be an “intending immigrant”, and invited to leave.

Habitually, despite the fact that an F-1 visa is intended for Academic and English Language Study, Africans are denied a student F-1 visa for the Intensive Language programs or ESL programs routinely granted to students from Europe and Asia.

According to the Consular Officer at the US Embassy in Ethiopia, “Ethiopians can study English in Ethiopia and need not go to America.” [Direct Quote]

The sum of US $900.00 is the equivalent of nine months’ salary of a university graduate [for example high school teacher] in Ethiopia. To any one who is alert, sixteen thousand Birr is the equivalent of a life time savings for many of the applicants and their families and a significant financial sacrifice in light of the cost of ever escalating cost of living in Ethiopia.

To add offence to injury, unsuccessful applicants are invited to re-apply in six months time to suffer the same fate and indignity in consideration for yielding the remainder, if any, of their savings.

Aside from the perceived financial duplicity and economic loss, the maltreatment, humiliation, and contempt suffered at the hands of embassy visa personnel is not only scandalous but legendary.

It is compelling that the Embassy is attentive to the sentiments of those with whom it interacts because each unflattering contact may have an unfavorable lasting effect.

On January 19, 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order designed to improve visa and foreign visitor processing and travel promotion in order to create jobs and spur economic growth in the United States.

Among other initiatives, the Executive Order provides as follows with regard to visa processing abroad, particularly in high volume countries:

Sec. 2. Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing. (a) The Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism shall, consistent with Presidential Policy Directive 1 or any successor documents and in coordination with the Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary, maintain an interagency process for coordinating the implementation of regulatory improvements and the evaluation of legislative proposals to enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements.

Moreover, the Mutual educational and cultural exchange act of 1961 [22 USC CHAPTER 33 – MUTUAL EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL EXCHANGE PROGRAM] seeks to

“…enable the Government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange; to strengthen the ties which unite us with other nations by demonstrating the educational and cultural interests, developments, and achievements of the people of the United States and other nations, and the contributions being made toward a peaceful and more fruitful life for people throughout the world; to promote international cooperation for educational and cultural advancement; and thus to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and the other countries of the world.

A wealthy country like America and particularly so perceived by the Ethiopian population, can ill afford the image of pocketing meager savings of applicants in bad faith. The present policy is an ill-conceived pitiable practice which will not be without consequence and hence the potential detriment carefully weighed.

The appalling and reprehensible practice is not only infamous but the multiplier effect widely sustains the perceived unfair conventional impression of America as a nation and people nurtured by arrogance bent to practice condescension without restraint even in the host country.

Imagine the attitude of the average Ethiopian towards an American US Embassy employee when observed outside the fortress in Entoto. It is not doubtful that over whelming affection will not be among the boiling sentiments.

Increasingly, the presence of the United States is viewed with deep resentment in many countries. Despite all of the good deeds, investment, generosity, and noble intentions of this great country, these wicked practices re-enforce the claim that the American presence in Ethiopia is for the purpose of furthering unilateral American benefit and interfering in the domestic affairs of the country rather than furthering respectful mutual gain.

As an Ethiopian American, I am obliged to call upon the US Embassy to review the wanton practices and mindsets, lest the Embassy transform more friends and particularly university students and future leaders into embassy and flag burning antagonists.

Not every applicant for a non-immigrant visa is an economic refugee or intending immigrant and not every applicant for an immigrant visa is engaged in a fraud scheme. Conclusively pre-supposing and characterizing each applicant as an intending immigrant without any evidence is patently unlawful and wrong.

Non-appealable denials of visas to visitors, legitimate spouses, and students on ludicrous and unlawful grounds have become the unmitigated norm. Ethiopian Muslim women in particular, I am told, believe that they are unfairly targeted for scrutiny by the embassy and subsequent denials of visa applications and rumors widely circulated to that effect.

While the malefactors and the ugly Americans who are comfortable behind concrete walls of the embassy grounds may be immune from the dire consequences of their decisions, I for one do not like witnessing the ever escalating negative expressions about the United States.

These Embassy misfits have tainted and stained America’s image in the eyes of those who are being directly and indirectly victimized daily by their arbitrary decisions.

I have humbly e-mailed the American Ambassador several times in a sincere attempt to draw his attention to this predicament; and to remind him the perception and affection of common people perhaps more so that the high powered government officials are material to the destiny of the relationship between the two countries. To the observant, recent events in the Middle East and Africa are testament to the hypothesis.

Those of us privileged to be Ethiopian Americans cannot remain oblivious and complacent in the face of disparate, unfair, and duplicitous treatment of our relations and ignore the surrounding horror stories.

I am obliged to again call upon the Honorable American Ambassador to Ethiopia to not abandon the fate of America to junior consular visa officials who have not demonstrated maturity and sensitivity in their actions.

It is incumbent that the Embassy pays heed to the ultimate effect of treating Ethiopians in a manner not consistent with citizens from other countries seeking to study or visit the United States.

The adjudication standards are the same and should be applied uniformly. Many of the applicants may be poor and black, but they are entitled to fair and considerate treatment.

Demanding US $160.00 from thousands of people each week, to enter the hallowed Embassy grounds for a one minute interview to be denied the application is unconscionable and immoral and will not gain the affection of the thousands victimized and the tenfold who are informed.

The embassy should reflect on the unethical and unfair scheme which compels pre payment of fees to effect a pre-disposed decision to deny the visa applications.

A wealthy country like the United States can at the very least refund a portion of the visa fee if an applicant is legitimately denied the request – better yet, adjudicate each application fairly and respectfully on merit rather than pre-conceived attitudes.