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David L Stone (right), consul general at the US Embassy in Kingston, makes a point on Friday during a discussion with reporters while his deputy, Laurence Tobey, listens. (Photo: Bryan Cummings)
THE United States says the current row between Kingston and Washington over the contentious extradition request of Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke has not affected the granting of visas to Jamaicans.
Officials at the US Embassy in Kingston told reporters Friday during a tour of sections of the Old Hope Road complex that the prevailing political climate has nothing to do with whether visa applications are approved or denied.
The decision, the officials pointed out, is made on a case-by-case basis, following an assessment of each applicant and the applying of the Immigration and Nationality Act (1952) to their circumstance.
"No visa is issued or declined for political reasons and there is no daily quota [for visa approvals]. If a thousand people turn up and they qualify, they all will get visas," said Consul General David L Stone.
The embassy last year processed approximately 109,000 non-immigrant visa applications and "vastly more" than half that number has been approved for visas, Laurence Tobey, chief of the visa unit, said.
Stone's pronouncement should serve to quell the current anxiety of Jamaicans who, based on public pronouncements of some unsuccessful visa applicants, have formed the view that the embassy has been rejecting applications in retaliation for the Bruce Golding-led administration's refusal to extradite Coke to face drug- and gun-running charges.
The US had last August requested Coke's extradition but Golding has so far refused, arguing that the evidence submitted by the Americans against Coke was gathered in breach of Jamaican law.
Relations between both countries have been soured over the issue.
The matter is currently before the Supreme Court.
Responding to a question from the Observer, Rebecca C Park, the embassy's deputy public affairs officer, said there has been no decline in visa applications since the stand-off.
Embassy officials warned on Friday against applicants contracting the services of persons or organisations making guarantees of successful visa applications, noting that this would be a waste of their money.
"If a person says 'I can guarantee that you get a visa', that is not true, because there is no guarantee," Stone said.
Tobey said that there are no less than 33 grounds -- including criminal activity, control substance abuse and the contraction of certain communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis -- on which persons can be refused a visa.
Under normal circumstances, Tobey said, the burden of proof is on applicants to convince the interviewing officer that they should be granted visas.
Tobey was keen to clarify that the visa application fee Jamaicans are asked to pay is a standardise fee required of applicants across the globe.