Saturday, July 4, 2009

Jamaican Netballers Denied Transit Visas for Passage Through the United States

According to the Jamaica Observer, three out of seven of Jamaica's selectees for the World Youth Netball Championship in the Cook Islands were denied visas by the U.S. Embassy. As a result, Jamaica's participation in the games is jeopardized.

The [Jamaica Netball Association] is hoping to take advantage of a special arrangement with Air Jamaica and fly the delegation to Los Angeles, before boarding another flight shortly after touchdown to New Zealand where they will then continue onto the nearby Cook Islands.

Apparently the duration of the intended layover in the U.S. was only about 12 hours. The appropriate visa for such a stop-over would be the C-1 visa, which like most nonimmigrant visas, requires proof of nonimmigrant intent. Visa applicants are presumed to have an immigrant intent (i.e. an intent to stay in the United States permanently) under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. As a result, Section 214(b) is the most common reason for visa denials at US consulates and embassies across the world, and is the likely culprit in this case.

The troubling issue for Jamaican sports officials is that the athletes did not even intend to participate in any events in the United States. They required transit through the United States in this case only because of the complexities of travel from Jamaica to the remote Cook Islands.

The incident has caused some minor controversy in Jamaica, with some observers wondering why American consular officials did not take cognizance of the fact that the visa applicants, as national team members, were being vouched for by national authorities. According to one commentator, this is a sign of disrespect:

It is full time that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs take up this matter with the USA and have a protocol established whereby it is known that national representatives have the full backing of the nation, and we resent our country being deprived of the services of these ambassadors because someone in the immigration department thinks he or she is going to run off into "heaven".

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