Undue delay in visas disrupting US assistance to Pak: Report
Washington: The undue delay by Pakistan in issuing visas to American officials disrupts the delivery and oversight of US assistance worth billions of dollards to Islamabad, according to an official report.
"Although the United States invested more than USD 26 billion in fiscal years 2002 through 2012 to assist the government of Pakistan, US officials applying for Pakistani visas continue to face delays that they have identified as disrupting their efforts to provide assistance," the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in its report.
During its investigation, GAO found that of about 4,000 issued visas, approximately 18 per cent took more than six weeks, with approximately three per cent taking 16 weeks or longer. Moreover, of approximately 2,200 visa extensions, about 59 per cent took longer than six weeks to be issued, with approximately five per cent taking 16 weeks or longer.
"US officials stated that they receive little specific information from Pakistan on the reasons for visa delays, but they noted that visa delays disrupt the effective implementation and oversight of US programs and efficient use of resources in Pakistan," it said.
"Visa delays also have created staffing gaps for critical embassy positions, such as Regional Security Officers and Marine Security Guards, and have necessitated the cancellation of training to assist the Pakistani government in areas such as anti-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and law enforcement assistance," the report said.
GAO report said according to officials, agencies have taken various steps to manage visa delays and their effects.
For instance, the US State Department has conducted high-level discussions with the Pakistani government regarding visa delays and has reprogrammed USD 10 million budgeted for anti-terrorism trainings in Pakistan, which were cancelled due to visa delays, toward other priority initiatives.
The State Department has reported to Congress that visa delays create challenges to the implementation of its programs in Pakistan.
In its communication to the GAO, the State Department said the US officials travelling to Pakistan on a temporary assignment tend to experience the greatest delay in obtaining Pakistani visa, while those US officials who receive order to work in Pakistan for at least one year receive the visa within the stipulated six weeks' time.
Further those US officials who have a military or security backgrounds experience unusual delay in issuance of visa by Pakistan.
The Department of Defence in its short reply to the GAO, which is attached to the report, says the delay in issuing of visa is from both sides - Pakistan as well as the US.
"A complete study of the effects of visa delays on US assistance should also focus on US delays providing visas to Pakistani officials, in addition to Pakistani delays providing visas to US officials," said David Sedney, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence.