Outcry over U.S. visa delays after Kenyan sprinter practically misses race


Ferdinand Omanyala, 26, often known as Africa’s quickest man, feared he wouldn’t be capable to compete on this week’s World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore. — probably the most important occasion in his sport after the Olympics.

The African file holder from Kenya, one of many quickest sprinters of all time, was speculated to fly to the United States on Monday, giving him 5 days to settle in earlier than his first 100-meter race. But with barely a day left to make the Friday night begin, he had but to obtain a U.S. visa, with out which he could be barred from a contest that might cement his legacy.

The doc arrived a day earlier than the race, and he received in with just a few hours to spare, set to compete with runners who had not simply stepped off a aircraft.

Omanyala informed The Washington Post he utilized for a visa with the remainder of the Kenyan workforce July 7. The majority of his teammates acquired visas the subsequent day, Omanyala mentioned. His by no means confirmed up, for causes that remained unclear to him. He faulted the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi for the unexplained delay.

“It’s really disappointing, and I hope they do better next time,” Omanyala mentioned. “I know they are hosting the Olympics in 2028, so I really hope they learn from this and do much better next time.”

When Omanyala awakened Thursday morning, “I had already given up coming here,” Omanyala mentioned. “I was supposed to run on Friday. God works miracles.”

After the visa lastly arrived Thursday, Omanyala boarded a five-hour flight from Nairobi to Doha at 6 p.m. He flew 14 hours to Seattle, getting 9 hours of sleep in enterprise class. His one-hour flight from Seattle to Eugene landed three hours earlier than his race. He drove on to Hayward Field.

Omanyala completed his first-round warmth in third place, at 10.10 seconds, properly off his season-best time of 9.85 however adequate to advance him to Saturday’s semifinals, the place his effort fell brief and he was eradicated.

“I felt like my glutes are on fire,” Omanyala mentioned after his first race Saturday. “I’m glad I made it to the semifinals. That’s the main thing.”

Despite his disappointment, Omanyala chatted amiably with reporters for greater than 20 minutes Friday night time, smiling and expressing gratitude he had been in a position to run and advance.

“In life, you cannot force issues,” Omanyala mentioned. “I learned that you have to relax in every situation so that things can work out.”

Visa data are confidential by regulation, Andrew Veveiros, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, wrote in a WhatsApp message to The Post on Saturday, “therefore we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases.”

In this case, U.S. authorities will not be at fault. Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations launched a probe into the circumstances behind the delay in Omanyala’s visa, Kenyan media reported.

George Kinoti, the director of the workplace, informed native reporters Friday {that a} authorities ministry had requested him to analyze allegations of bribery and inclusion of non-officials — so-called “joyriders” — on the checklist of vacationers for the journey. Officials from that ministry’s division of sports activities rejected the claims, news site Nation. Africa reported.

Kenyan sports activities officers mentioned Omanyala had didn’t disclose some data on his visa software, which contributed to the delay.

Omanyala’s supervisor, Marcel Viljoen, informed The Post he doubts that rationalization.

“As far as I know the whole team went to the embassy at the same time. Ferdinand is accustomed to the process and definitely knows the implications of leaving out information. So I doubt it,” he wrote in a WhatsApp message.

But Omanyala’s shut name touched a nerve throughout the continent, the place residents hoping to journey to the United States usually face difficulties. Athletes from Kenya and throughout Africa have lengthy confronted bother getting U.S. visas in a well timed trend, and Omanyala’s issues drew widespread consideration in Kenya, the place hundreds usually face far slower timelines for visas than athletes do.

African athletes got the choice to fast-track their visa functions, however delays have been important — some roughly six to eight months, Viljoen informed The Post on Friday. World Athletics and the organizing committee for the occasion in Oregon labored with contributors around the globe to assist resolve visa points, however 20 athletes or officers had their functions refused, in keeping with a press release despatched to The Post.

A Nigerian sports activities official, chatting with the Guardian, mentioned that some Nigerian athletes have needed to pull out of competitions on the final minute due to visa issues. He mentioned that regardless of paying visa charges in April, some athletes got consular appointments for dates in March 2024.

“Before the American government accepted to host this World Athletics Championships, I expected their embassies around the world to treat the athletes, coaches and accredited journalists with respect,” the unidentified official informed the Guardian. “I am sure this kind of treatment won’t be meted to athletes, officials and journalists from Great Britain, Germany and Australia.”

South African media outlet MSN reported that a number of runners touring from Cape Town to Oregon had been stranded in Italy due to visa issues.

Omanyala’s delay sparked a response on social media, as Kenyans posted concerning the setbacks for athletes or their very own waits — some taking the conspiratorial line that the United States was “deliberately” withholding the athletes’ visas, fearing that they’d defeat their American opponents. Others, together with college students, complained concerning the uphill battle they face to enter the United States, with out the celebrity of star athletes to assist them advocate for sooner processing.

In 2020, in mild of the coronavirus pandemic, the State Department introduced suspensions for all routine visa companies in most nations around the globe — a transfer that has affected a whole bunch of hundreds of individuals searching for refugee standing and nonimmigrant visas.

While the web site of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi says that visa functions have resumed, officers notice that they “are faced with a significant backlog of cases resulting from closures due to COVID-19” and that “all applicants should expect delays.”

According to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, the common wait time for a U.S. customer visa appointment in Nairobi is 687 days — greater than 3.5 occasions the common wait time for a U.S. traveler visa in London. The web site additionally notes it takes roughly 665 days to get an appointment to course of a U.S. pupil visa.

In a press release despatched to The Post, State Department spokesman Ned Price mentioned visas are dealt with on a case-by-case foundation.

Dennis Kiogora, a founding father of the Kenya Airlift Program, an initiative connecting postgraduate college students from Kenya to universities throughout the United States, mentioned most college students in his program couldn’t safe visas forward of a September begin date.

“It is a huge crisis for us because we have so many bright students who have already been admitted to universities in the U.S.,” he mentioned. “Most students who are supposed to report in September have [visa] appointment dates in 2023.” Kiogora added that since May, solely 20 out of 140 college students have acquired visas to the United States.

Allan Ngaruiya, 32, a participant within the Airlift Program, mentioned that even with delays, he received’t be capable to begin his research within the spring. He mentioned his sponsor withdrew funding for his research due to visa points.

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