Kenya: New requirements for travelers to USA

Kenyans planning to travel to USA may soon be required to prove that they have basic knowledge of how life ‘actually’ is in America before they are issued with travel visas.

Proof, to be in the form of some kind of ‘certificate of induction’ issued after attending Basic Information sessions conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be part of a retinue of requirements that must be presented to the US Embassy in Nairobi as part of qualifying documents when one is seeking to travel to America.

Currently, one has to show proof that they are financially able to sustain their stay in the USA without becoming a ‘public charge’. For those going to study, they must present financial bank statements from their sponsors either in Kenya or in the USA. The move that is bound to be received with mixed reactions by a public that is wary of the many complications around visa applications for traveling abroad, is being spearheaded by the Kenyan Embassy in the USA, more specifically Ambassador Elkanah Odembo.

Odembo who first proposed the requirement through a letter he sent to his Permanent Secretary in Nairobi, says the move is aimed at protecting the safety and integrity of Kenyans migrating to the USA. In the recent past, the Kenyan embassy in the DC has been inundated by calls and letters from Kenyans living in the USA seeking help for all manner of problems. “We are seeing too much suffering on the part of some Kenyans who came to this country with scanty information about how life actually is. We think part of the solution to this problem can be tackled when someone is still in Kenya and that is why we are proposing this initiative,” Odembo said.

He says proper information for those going to America is very key in helping them prepare financially and psychologically for the life they are bound to find there. Odembo, who was himself once a Diaspora student in the USA, said the embassy is in the process of developing a manual containing basic information about America. This will be part of the literature that will be given to those intending to travel to the USA for whatever reasons but especially for those choosing to study in America.

“When we came to America to study long time ago, this was part of the requirements. We had to prove that we knew what we were going to do in America. Of late, this is not happening,” he said, adding that the manual is a necessity and will contain not just the do’s and don’ts but also basic information about important contacts and help centers managed by the Diaspora in the USA. Odembo said he was working closely with the newly appointed USA ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration, whom he described as someone who is very ‘conversant’ with these issues.

If approved and implemented by the Kenya government, this will be one of the measures aimed at tackling some of the immense challenges that the Diaspora is currently facing in the face of changing fortunes for USA, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and the collapse of the financial markets.

Many Kenyans living in the USA have not only lost their jobs in the recent past but also their homes and investments as a result of the economic recession. Some of the measures aimed at checking illegal immigrants to the USA include tightening rules for foreign students. Many foreign students can’t find jobs within the campuses and if they drop some classes to find work to supplement their upkeep, their student visas are revoked. Frustrations arising out of this have led to increased social ills such as domestic violence, suicides and drug and alcohol abuse.

Hardest hit are those who are migrating on the lottery visa commonly known as Green Card. Many are staying for months on end and sometimes years without finding employment.