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Joe Biden lifts ban on Tanzania for the US diversity visa

Saturday January 23 2021
Visa pic
By Louis Kalumbia

Dar es Salaam. Tanzanians yesterday had their hopes raised following the decision by the new United States President Joe Biden to end the restrictions that prevented them from participating in the popular visa lottery system that allows winners to enter and work in the US.

February last year, then-President Donald Trump’s administration extended the restrictions to Tanzania, Eritrea, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Myanmar.

The restriction on Tanzania was in the form of a ban from participating in the annual visa lottery which grants up to 50,000 successful applicants US residency. In 2019, some 290 Tanzanians won the lottery green cards whose ban took effect on February 22, 2020.

“As one of his first official acts, President Joe Biden ended the restrictions preventing Tanzanians from applying for the Diversity Visa (DV),” the US embassy in Tanzania tweeted yesterday. Reached for comments, the embassy’s spokesman, James Rodriguez, confirmed the validity of the tweet. “The new leadership has decided to take a different direction on the matter,” he said.

The head of Government Communications at the ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Mr Emmanuel Buhohela, said if the statement was correct, then it was good news for Tanzanians.

“The government’s business always goes on paper, but no official communication has been received so far. But if the said reports have been confirmed, then this is good news for our country which has been promoting diplomatic relations with other countries across the world,” he said over the phone.

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Last year, the Trump administration defended its decision, saying the restrictions had been imposed after the victim countries fell short of US security standards, including passport technology and failure to share information on criminals and terrorist suspects.

However, the decision was taken while the government intensified the issuance of national IDs and electronic passports.

The government also emphasized demand for mobile phone subscribers to register their SIM cards using the biometric system, with reports showing that up to 15 million users had their lines switched off for failure to beat the January 20, 2020 deadline.

However, it is not known whether the concurrent issuance of IDs, e-passports and biometric registration of SIM cards had anything to do with the stated conditions by the US in restricting visa conditions for Tanzanians. According to the US, restrictions on Tanzania only allowed travellers seeking business, medical and tourism visas to be served.

Mr Innocent Shoo of the College of Diplomacy at Kurasini in Dar es Salaam blamed the US for the earlier decision, saying it would significantly affect the country’s economy.

“Travellers to the US will decline. Growth of the Diaspora will be limited and remittances back home will drop - and, therefore, decreasing the country’s investments,” he said.

“It would’ve also affected transfer of technology and cultural exchanges such as spread of the kiswahili language, additionally, it would’ve affected and significantly reduced the number of tourists from the US.”

However, Khoti Kamanga, a professor of International Law at the University of Dar es Salaam, told The Citizen that there would be no economic impact on the US decision because there were other options.

With the lifting of the ban by the Biden administration, sentiments are that diplomatic relations between the US and Tanzania will continue to thrive.

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