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American Doors Aren't Closed

by Abdul R. Sheikh

Immigration is the central aspect of American history. Immigrants are the only group that makes America distinct. Believing in the American Dream of creating a better life for themselves and their children, many tens of billions of foreign nationals have come to live and work in the United States. They thus changed their homelands and their family histories forever. They worked hard, and with their dedication, strengthened the nation's commitment to the Dream and to its ideal of being an exception, a refuge for the poor, a nation of the nations. What other country can claim to have and is universally recognized for a national dream, and at that, one that invites the entire world to come and take part? Has this become a partial truth?

We won't have to wait 20 years to get the full effect of how American culture and history has changed. I think it is already in plain view. I heard all the time when I was representing the U.S. in the consulate how folks used to love the U.S. will not come here anymore, or allow their children to study or work there. It is heartbreaking to hear that, since I love the country and I generally visualize U.S. the way it was when I was young, long before 9/11 and other attacks. I see the way America functions now as a distortion of the true nature of its people, and yet the measures taken to keep everyone safe are, for the most part, necessary, since there is a genuine threat. So what do we do? Open ourselves up to danger, or shut ourselves off from the world, thus ultimately destroying ourselves?

There have been a number of sad incidents since 9/11 involving qualified visitors to the U.S. being turned around at the port of entry. Students who always dream about getting admission in an good American University chose not to come because it is "too hard" to obtain visas. Many innocent students went home for vacation and missed a semester waiting for security clearances. Many international companies decided not to hold business meetings or conventions in the U.S. because of long delays in obtaining U.S. visas. Many Foreign Doctors and Nurses, who we always need to meet our health needs, decide not to come because they have to wait for security clearances such as Visas Condor and Visas Donkey. A Visas Donkey is a request for the Department's security advisory opinion (SAO). Once a donkey request is sent, the visa issuing consulate suspends all action on the case until a reply is received from the Department of State. A Visas Condor is a request for a name check of aliens possessing certain nationalities. Once a Condor (SAO) request is sent, the visa issuing consulate suspends all action on the case until a response is received from the Department of State.

Below is an overview of statistical information on immigrant and nonimmigrant visa issuances from consular office in Islamabad, Pakistan. The source of information for the data is the workload report from visa issuing post, which was released by the Department of State.

  • In Fiscal Year 2001, immigrant visa issuances at Islamabad consulate totaled 11,922, an increase of 1,666 from the Fiscal Year 2000 figure of 10,256, but nonimmigrant visa issuances dropped from 69,550 to 53,482.
  • In FY 2002, immigrant visa issuances totaled 6,811 and nonimmigrant visa issuance totaled 23,625. The numbers in both categories dropped significantly.
  • In FY 2003, the total number of immigrant visa issuances further dropped from 6,811 to 6,542 and nonimmigrant visa issuances dropped from 23,625 to 18,068.
  • In FY 2004, reduction occurred again in immigrant visa issuance from 6,542 to 6,163 and nonimmigrant issuances declined sharply from 18,068 to 17,789.

Fiscal Year Immigrant visa issuances Nonimmigrant visa issuances
2000 10,256 69,550
2001 11,922 53,482
2002 6,811 23,625
2003 6,542 18,068
2004 6,163 17,789

The time has come now that we make an attempt to find better ways to improve our security while maintaining our traditionally open and welcoming society. We need to make sure that the time for security clearances for travelers be reduced while using sensitive technology transfer fields. U.S. embassies oversees can play a vital role to establish positive foreign views about the U.S. For people in Pakistan, the call at the American Consulate is the first personal contact with the U.S. A considerate reception from an interviewing officer and reasonable attention to the application can serve to create an atmosphere of good will. It is sad when someone is "put off" by the visa application procedure, fingerprinting, but in fact we lose an opportunity, a student, a doctor, or a nurse.

We can certainly put an effort to ensure that we are as welcoming as possible. As the Assistant Secretary of State said, we can't afford to lose even one student. We can do better to make the U.S. the place of choice. The time will come soon when we can proudly say that America is more open than ever and American doors aren't closed.

About The Author

Abdul Sheikh grew up in Lahore, Pakistan speaking English and 5 other languages, and received his Masterís degree in Business Administration (Marketing) at LISSBA University in 1997. He attended several workshops and U.S. Immigration courses offered by the Department of State and Foreign Service Institute, in Arlington, Virginia. He is expert on consular processing and business immigration. From April 1998 to October 2003, Mr. Sheikh worked professionally as an Immigration Visa Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. He has also worked professionally with Robert Lubin & Associates in the business immigration group from October 2003 to September 2004. Since September 2004, Mr. Sheikh has been working with the business immigration group at Greenberg Traurig, LLC the 8th largest law firm in the U.S. He has appeared as a guest speaker at consular workshops organized by the U.S. Embassy Islamabad, and trained several Consular Officers as well as Foreign Service Nationals on several immigrant, nonimmigrant visa categories, and consular processing. He has received several awards and certificates from the Department of State. Mr. Sheikh can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.