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US Embassy denies visas for Ethiopian business people travelling to attend trade summit

African trade summit held in the absence of African delegates

The US Embassy in Addis Ababa denied visas for Ethiopian businesspeople who were travelling to Los Angeles last week to attend the African Global Economic and Development Summit held on March16-18, 2017 in the University of Southern California.

At least 20 Ethiopian businesspeople, who were invited to attend the three-day annual African trade summit, were all denied entry visas. One of the business people whose visa application was rejected told The Reporter that he has presented an extensive documentation to the embassy’s visa consular affairs section including bank statements and property records. “It is sad that we are unable to attend the trade summit meant to create business opportunities for Ethiopian companies due to visa issues,” he said.      

Spokesperson of the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Nick Barnett, said that the embassy cannot comment on individual cases. In an email response to The Reporter, Barnett said: “There have been no new restrictions on visa issuance to Ethiopian citizens. The US government facilitates legitimate travel to the United States in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, which applies to all visa applicants, regardless of nationality.”

According to organizer of the African Global Economic and Development Summit, Mary Flowers, the annual African trade summit typically brings delegations from across Africa to meet with business leaders in the US in an effort to foster partnerships. Ethiopian businesspeople were not the only ones to be denied entry visas.

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All African businesses invited by Mary Flowers to attend the trade summit were denied entry visas by the respective US embassies. According Mary Flowers, the annual African trade summit had no African attendees this year after at least 60 people were denied visas.

More than 200 delegates attend the annual trade summit. But this year, every single African citizen who requested a visa was rejected, according to the organizers.

Flowers said roughly 60 to 100 people from at least a dozen nations were denied entry to the summit, which went on as planned with a much smaller group last Thursday through Saturday.

Rejected participants at the trade summit came from, among others, Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, and South Africa.

Ethiopian Chambers of Commerce and Sectoral Associations (ECCSA) said it did not receive any formal complaints from members of the business community regarding the said visa denials. Debebe Abebe, communications and public relations director with ECCSA, told The Reporter that the chamber was not invited to attend the African Global Economic and Development Summit. Debebe said the chamber closely works with the US Embassy in screening businesses who wish to attend trade and investment forum and exhibitions. “The embassy has its own visa application and screening procedures and we respect that. When the business community asks us for support letters for visa applications we thoroughly investigate if the delegated person is really representing the company before we write the accreditation letter,” Debebe said.

He said it was ridiculous to hold an African trade summit in the absence of African business people. “That means African voices are not heard. We urge trade and investment forum organizers to invite chambers of commerce who are the true representatives of business communities.”

Mary Flowers, which has been organizing the African Global Economic and Development Summit since 2013, said the summit is designed to bring Africa to America’s doorstep for investments and trade. “The long-term impact of the visa denials is a lack of new trade links and business partnerships between US entrepreneurs and African nations,” Flowers added. 

Some are now questioning whether the denials to the Los Angeles event could be tied to the anti-immigration policies of Donald Trump.                       

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