The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected demands from governors to be given official visa facilitation whenever they seek to travel to the US for county business.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said on Friday her office will no longer consider the county chiefs for official status as demanded by the US government.
In a statement, she argued her office was following a “sovereign decision” by the US government to recategorise county governors as people whose visas no longer requires a facilitation note from her ministry, unless travelling on assignment from the national government.
“County officials travelling to the United States exclusively on behalf of their county governments do not qualify for official visa status, whether they are traveling on diplomatic passports or regular passports,” she said in a statement.
“County officials not travelling on behalf of the national government must follow normal visa procedures and cannot be granted official visa status. They must be interviewed, provide fingerprints and pay application and issuance fees.”
Traditionally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has often issued recommendation letters, known in diplomatic language as note verbale, for government officials and their immediate families travelling abroad, so they can be exempted from the complex rigours of applying for visas. The note verbale exempted officials from the requirement for physical appearance or payment of fees when applying for visas and gave them the privilege to be given the visa within the shortest time possible.
But last month, the US Embassy in Nairobi wrote to the Ministry seeking to reclassify the visas government officials qualify for. In the new policy, county officials no longer qualified for Category A Visa, which is granted to government officials travelling to the US on national duty. Governors and other county officials will now be given B1/B2 Visas, a category that normally does not require facilitation notes from the Ministry.
On Thursday though, County chiefs threatened legal action against the Ministry arguing it must now reclassify counties as a part of officials who qualify for the visas.
“We don’t just travel for fun. As county bosses we look for funds and other development-oriented organisations to develop the counties,” Mr Peter Munya, the Meru Governor and Council of Governors Chairman told reporters.
“We are yet to see whether the ministry will deny any governor travelling to any foreign country the assistance they require when travelling for official county functions,” he said.
The new US visa policy means that county officials travelling for personal or county affairs must apply for their visas in person, be interviewed, have their finger prints taken and pay application fees.
However, county governors travelling on diplomatic passports, will in particular be exempted from paying visa fees from among the county officials although they will also be required to wait for ten business days for their visas to mature.
The governors, too, must appear before the Embassy to have their finger prints taken, as opposed to previous regime when they obtained note verbale from the ministry and their visas processed.
On Friday, Ms Mohamed said the decision on which officials qualify for which visas was entirely up to the US government and that Kenya will only convey the message to the public.
“In avoidance of protracted engagement on a matter we feel is straight forward, the Ministry wishes to clarify that the decision is a sovereign decision taken solely by the Government of United States of America,” she argued.