US Visa Issuance Surges Despite Stringent Measures

Badrul Alam

In December 2021, the United States, citing concerns about alleged human rights violations, imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its officials. Furthermore, keeping the upcoming national elections in Bangladesh in view, the U.S. introduced new visa policy in May of this year, which was aimed at individuals who might be potentially involved in undermining the democratic process. However, the announcement of implementation of this policy was officially made in the previous month. Prior to this, during a visit by a U.S. Anti-Corruption coordinator to Dhaka in August, there were discussions about assets associated with individuals alleged to be involved in corruption. Yet, amidst these measures, the issuance of U.S. visas for Bangladeshis has seen an upward trend.

The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs regularly publishes visa issuance data. From January to August 2022, 20,235 visas were granted to non-immigrant Bangladeshis. During the same period this year, the number increased to 33,691, indicating a growth rate of 66.49%.

Diplomatic sources suggest that the number of travellers to the U.S. is increasing gradually. Approximately 60,000 individuals from Bangladesh visit the U.S. annually. The majority do so for travel of business purposes. Many also travel to visit the family members. The number of general Bangladeshis engaging with the U.S. has increased. Notably, about 10,000 students annually pursue education in the U.S., and sometimes, their journeys are complemented by family visits. Additionally, with a sizable Bangladeshi community residing in the U.S., there is a continuous flow of familial travel.

M. Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladeshi envoy to the U.S. considers that given the circumstances, this trend of increased engagement is natural. He says to Bonik Barta, "The recently announced visa policy primarily targets specific segments and is not intended for the general populace. The essence of the policy is to encourage peaceful electoral proceedings. As the new visa policy is not broadly applied to the general public, it is understandable to see the rise in visa issuance numbers. The policy is meticulous, designed not to impact ordinary citizens who are not involved in particular electoral undertakings. The U.S., with its vast experience, knows the probable stakeholders in such processes, and that number is quite finite. The overall increase in visa numbers reflects this understanding."

According to data from the Bureau of Consular Affairs, non-resident Bangladeshis received visas under various categories over the past two years. A majority of these, especially between January and August of 2022 and 2023 were under the B1/B2 category, which is primarily intended for business and tourism purposes.

However, while there has been an overall positive trend in visa issuance for most of 2022 and 2023, a slight decrease was observed post the May visa policy announcement. The number was 4,821 in May, which decreased to 4,558 in June, 4,502 in July, and further to 4,348 in August.

In response to the dip in visa issuance post-May, M. Humayun Kabir remarked, Since the policy's announcement in May, there seems to be a sense of apprehension among some applicants. It's possible that, out of caution, those involved in various processes might be hesitating to apply due to fear of rejection.

Translated by Mehedi Mamun

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