Posted: 3:27 am ET
On January 3, the State Department published 9 FAM 602.2 on the Discontinuation of Visa Issuance Under INA 243 (D) which provides that “upon being notified by the Secretary of Homeland Security that a government of a foreign country denies or unreasonably delays accepting an alien who is a citizen, subject, national, or resident of that country, the Secretary of State shall order consular officers in that foreign country to discontinue granting immigrant visas or nonimmigrant visas, or both, to citizens, subjects, nationals, and residents of that country until the Secretary of Homeland Security notifies the Secretary of State that the country has accepted the alien.”
–> A discontinuation of visa issuance under INA 243(d) is based on an order issued by the Secretary of State to consular officers in a particular country to stop issuing visas pursuant to INA 243(d). The Secretary may decide to order consular officers to discontinue issuing all visas in the country or a subset of visas.
–> Affected posts generally will be informed by cable which visa classifications or categories of visa applicants are subject to a discontinuation under INA 243(d) and when visa issuance must be discontinued. When the Secretary orders discontinuation of visa issuance, the Visa Office will work with the relevant regional bureau and the affected post to provide specific guidance via cable.
Only one country, The Gambia, is currently subject to discontinuation of visa issuance under INA 243(d) though this might just be the start. There are potentially 85 countries that could be subject to a visa sanction based on their refusal in accepting their own nationals deported from the United States. The FAM, at this time, does not include any guidance pertaining to immigrant visas.
In October last year, the State Department spokesperson said this about the visa sanction for The Gambia in the DPB:
As of October 1st, 2016, the United States and Banjul, The Gambia, has discontinued visa issuance to employees of the Gambian government, employees of certain entities associated with the government, and their spouses and children, with limited exceptions. Under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, when so requested by the Secretary of Homeland Security due to a particular country’s refusal to accept or unreasonably delay the return of its nationals, the Secretary of State must order consular officers to suspend issuing visas until informed by the Secretary of Homeland Security that the offending country has accepted those individuals.
[…] The Gambia is unique in that we have applied numerous tools on how to engage, but without any result. Some other countries have responded in some way or made partial efforts to address the deficiency; The Gambia has not. We have been seeking cooperation with the Government of The Gambia on the return of Gambian nationals for some time, from the working level up to the highest level, and we have exhausted diplomatic means to resolve this matter.
Last year, ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale also went before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for a hearing on “Recalcitrant Countries: Denying Visas to Countries that Refuse to Take Back Their Deported Nationals”. Below is an excerpt from his prepared testimony which provides additional background for this issue:
The removal process is impacted by the level of cooperation offered by our foreign partners. As the Committee is aware, in order for ICE to effectuate a removal, two things are generally required: (1) an administratively final order of removal and (2) a travel document issued by a foreign government. Although the majority of countries adhere to their international obligation to accept the return of their citizens who are not eligible to remain in the United States, ICE faces unique challenges with those countries that systematically refuse or delay the repatriation of their nationals. Such countries are considered to be uncooperative or recalcitrant, and they significantly exacerbate the challenges ICE faces in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001).
In Zadvydas, the Court effectively held that aliens subject to final orders of removal may generally not be detained beyond a presumptively reasonable period of 180 days, unless there is a significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future. Regulations were issued in the wake of Zadvydas to allow for detention beyond that period in a narrow category of cases involving special circumstances, including certain terrorist and dangerous individuals with violent criminal histories. Those regulations have faced significant legal challenges in federal court. Consequently, ICE has been compelled to release thousands of individuals, including many with criminal convictions, some of whom have gone on to commit additional crimes.
23 countries considered “recalcitrant”, 62 countries with “strained cooperation”
Countries are assessed based on a series of tailored criteria to determine their level of cooperativeness with ICE’s repatriation efforts. Some of the criteria used to determine cooperativeness include: hindering ICE’s removal efforts by refusing to allow charter flights into the country; country conditions and/or the political environment, such as civil unrest; and denials or delays in issuing travel documents. This process remains fluid as countries become more or less cooperative. ICE’s assessment of a country’s cooperativeness can be revisited at any time as conditions in that country or relations with that country evolve; however, ICE’s current standard protocol is to reassess bi-annually. As of May 2, 2016, ICE has found that there were 23 countries considered recalcitrant, including: Afghanistan, Algeria, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. As a result of their lack of cooperation, ICE has experienced a significant hindrance in our ability to remove aliens from these countries. In addition, ICE is also closely monitoring an additional 62 countries with strained cooperation, but which are not deemed recalcitrant at this time.
DHS/ICE and State/CA: measures for dealing with uncooperative countries
Responses to a country’s recalcitrance are, in part, guided by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ICE and DOS Consular Affairs, signed in April 2011. Pursuant to this MOU, ICE continues to work through U.S. diplomatic channels to ensure that other countries accept the timely return of their nationals in accordance with international law by pursuing a graduated series of steps to gain compliance with the Departments’ shared expectations. The measures that may be taken when dealing with countries that refuse to accept the return of their nationals, as outlined in the 2011 MOU, include:
♦ issue a demarche or series of demarches;
♦ hold a joint meeting with the Ambassador to the United States, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, and Director of ICE;
♦ consider whether to provide notice of the U.S. Government’s intent to formally determine that the subject country is not accepting the return of its nationals and that the U.S. Government intends to exercise authority under section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to encourage compliance;
♦ consider visa sanctions under section 243(d) of the INA; and
♦ call for an interagency meeting to pursue withholding of aid or other funding.
A State Department official on background told us today that “facilitating the removal of aliens who are subject to a final order of removal, particularly those who pose a danger to national security or public safety, is a top priority for the Department of State.” Also that the Department’s discontinuation of visa issuance this past October was “in response to the Gambia’s failure to issue travel documents for any individuals under final order for removal.” More:
When approaching a specific country, we consider all options at our disposal, taking into account the totality of national security and foreign policy equities that could be impacted. In many cases, significant progress has been possible through intensive diplomatic engagement. Taking into consideration each country’s specific situation and other important U.S. interests, we work with ICE to determine the course of action best suited to securing compliance from each government.
Since visa issuance is on reciprocal basis we wanted to know how this might affect America citizens in countries subjected to visa sanctions. Here is the official response:
Our goal is to achieve success without inciting retaliation that could hurt the U.S. in other ways. Imposition of visa sanctions on a given country is one potentially powerful tool. However, it is important to note that what works in one country may not be effective in another. Some governments would prefer to have their citizens stay home rather than spend their money on U.S. hotels, airlines, and tourist attractions. Others could retaliate in ways that could be detrimental to wider U.S. security concerns, such as law enforcement, military, or counter-terrorism cooperation.