U.S. Imposes Visa Restrictions on Ghanaian Citizens

Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey was appointed Ghanaian minister of foreign affairs in January 2017. (Flickr)

Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey was appointed Ghanaian minister of foreign affairs in January 2017. (Flickr)

Years of disagreement between Ghana and the United States culminated on January 31 with the announcement of new visa restrictions for Ghanaians seeking to travel to the U.S.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen stated, “Ghana has failed to live up to its obligations under international law to accept the return of its nationals ordered removed from the United States.” Amsterdam News reports that Ghana’s refusal to accept the nearly 7,000 of its nationals awaiting deportation prompted this decision. The visa sanctions do not impact current visa holders or student applicants; some applications will remain pending until sanctions are lifted, at which point they will be processed.

In September 2018, GhanaWeb detailed the compromise that the sparring countries had reached on the issue of Ghanaian non-cooperation with U.S. deportation decisions. At this point, the U.S. Embassy in Accra declared that if Ghana neglected its responsibilities, the U.S. would be forced to implement a regime of visa restrictions. Stephanie S. Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Ghana, clarified that Ghana has consistently failed to meet the standard of the United Nations Convention on International Civil Aviation, as those subject to deportation orders have not been issued immigration documents within the ordered 30 days. Without these passports, the U.S. is forced to either arrange charter flights or release those scheduled to be deported back into the United States.

These restrictions could prove crippling to many Ghanaians’ hopes to achieve the American Dream. According to a Quartz Africa report, Ghana had the highest number of applicants to the U.S. diversity visa program in 2015, commonly referred to as the “green card lottery” program. The 1.73 million Ghanaian applicants account for seven percent of the country’s total population of 25 million people. Only 235 Ghanaians were deported from the United States in 2018.

According to the Ghanaian Times, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration refutes the allegations of noncooperation, declaring that, as of January 2019, their mission in Washington, D.C., “had received 28 applications from the U.S. authorities, out of which 19 had been interviewed by the embassy and 11 travelling certificates issued for their travel to Ghana … Those outstanding are as a result of doubts of their nationality, ill health, and pending litigation in the U.S. courts.”

Although the number 7,000 has been referenced several times when referring to the great backlog of deportees, the ministry has declared that the figure includes individuals at varying points in deportation proceedings. Furthermore, there has not been any official confirmation or final court orders for these deportations.

Despite these recent restrictions, Ambassador Sullivan remains committed to a resolution, stating “Both we and government of Ghana are eager to resolve this issue that has spanned two administrations both in Accra and Washington.”