US EMBASSY IN NAIROBI. THE DURATION OF PROCESSING ALL VISA APPLICATIONS BY THE US EMBASSY REMAINS 10 BUSINESS DAYS PRIOR TO THE DATE OF TRAVEL. PHOTO | FILE
US Embassy tightens special visa rules for county officials
County government officials will no longer enjoy special visas to the United States unless they are on national government business, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.
The change of policy came through a memo the ministry sent to the devolved government units, indicating that the US Embassy in Nairobi will henceforth issue county officials with visitor visas (Category B1/B2) rather than official visas (Category A).
“The Embassy of the United States of America has informed the ministry that the official visa status (A visa category) will only apply to officials travelling to USA on behalf of the national government and their immediate family members (spouse and unmarried sons and daughters),” read the letter signed by director, parliament and county affairs, E.M. Barine on behalf of Ministry of Foreign Affairs principal secretary.
The letter dated February 14, 2017 says only county officials travelling for official duties on behalf of the national government qualify for official visas. County officials travelling to the US exclusively for county government business do not qualify for the official visa, whether travelling on diplomatic passports or not.
Such officials will now be issued with category B1/B2 visas. Visitor visas are non-immigrant visas for persons who want to enter the United States temporarily for business (visa category B-1), tourism, pleasure or visiting (visa category B-2), or a combination of both purposes (B-1/B-2).
“All county officials must therefore follow the normal visa application procedures, including physical appearance at the embassy for interviews, fingerprints and payment of visa fee,” the ministry said.
Essentially, diplomats and other foreign government officials travelling to the United States for official duties or activities on behalf of their national governments must obtain A-1 or A-2 visas prior to entering the United States.
Such officials cannot travel using visitor visas or under the Visa Waiver Programme.
With the exception of a Head of State or Government — who qualifies for an A visa regardless of the purpose of travel each person’s position in their country’s government and purpose of travel determines whether they are issued with an A-1 or A-2 visa.
“To qualify for an A-1 or A-2 visa, you must be travelling to the United States on behalf of your national government to engage solely in official activities for that government,” the US says on its official website for visas.
Such applicants must be travelling to perform specific duties or services that are governmental in character or nature, as determined by the US Department of State, in accordance with US immigration laws.
The US also requires government officials travelling to the United States to perform non-governmental functions of a commercial nature, or travelling as tourists to obtain appropriate visas that are not of category A.
“The fact that there may be government interest or control in a given organisation is not in itself the defining factor in determining if you qualify for an A visa,” the visa instructions say.
Individuals who qualify for Category A visas are exempt from paying visa fees and must present a diplomatic note with the other documents necessary for acquiring a visa.
The new visa rules say all county officials, except for those travelling on behalf of the national government, will henceforth be issued with B1/B2 category visas, which do not require a diplomatic note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The official note from the ministry is a written confirmation from the government of the traveller’s status and official purpose of travel.
Governors and their immediate family members travelling on diplomatic passports, whether for national or county government business are, however, exempted from paying visa fees.
The duration of processing all visa applications by the US Embassy remains 10 business days prior to the date of travel.
The letter to the Principal Secretary State Department of Devolution, Ministry of Devolution and Planning, was also copied to the chief executive officer, Council of Governors.