Ferdinand Omanyala visa delay: Outcry after top Kenyan sprinter nearly misses championships


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Ferdinand Omanyala, 26, known as Africa’s fastest man, feared he could not compete at this week’s World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, Oregon, his sport’s most important event after the Olympic Games.

Kenya’s African record holder, one of the fastest sprinters of all time, was due to fly to the United States on Monday, giving him five days to settle in before his first 100m race. But with barely a day to start on Friday night, he had yet to receive a US visa, without which he would be excluded from a competition that could cement his legacy.

The document arrived a day before the race, and it arrived with just a few hours to spare, ready to compete against runners who hadn’t just gotten off a plane. He was one of the lucky ones.

Athletes from Kenya and across Africa have long struggled to obtain U.S. visas in a timely manner, and Omanyala’s problems have drawn attention in Kenya, where thousands of people often face delays in visa much slower than athletes.

African athletes have been given the opportunity to expedite their visa applications, but delays have been significant – around six to eight months, Omanyala director Marcel Viljoen told The Washington Post on Friday. World Athletics and the event’s organizing committee in Oregon worked with participants around the world to help resolve visa issues, but 20 athletes or officials had their applications denied, according to a statement sent to The Post.

A Nigerian sports official, speaking to the Guardian, said some Nigerian athletes had to withdraw from competitions at the last minute due to visa issues. He said despite paying visa fees in April, some athletes had been given consular appointments for dates in March 2024.

“Before the US government agreed to host these World Championships in Athletics, I expected their embassies around the world to treat accredited athletes, coaches and journalists with respect,” the official said. not identified to the Guardian. “I’m sure this kind of treatment will not be meted out to athletes, officials and journalists from Britain, Germany and Australia.”

The US Embassy in Nairobi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

South African media msn reported that several runners traveling from Cape Town to Oregon were stranded in Italy due to visa issues.

Omanyala’s delay sparked a backlash on social media, as Kenyans posted about athletes’ setbacks or their own expectations – with some taking the conspiratorial line that the US was “deliberately” withholding visas from athletes. athletes, fearing that they would beat their American competitors. Others, including students, have complained about the uphill battle they face getting into the United States without the fame of star athletes to help them advocate for faster processing.

In 2020, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of State announced suspensions for all routine visa services to most countries around the world – a decision that affected hundreds of thousands of people applying for visa. refugee status and nonimmigrant visas.

While the US Embassy Nairobi website says visa applications have resumed, officials note that they “are facing a large 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 average wait time for a U.S. visitor visa to be processed from Nairobi is 687 days — more than 3.5 times the average wait time for a U.S. traveler’s visa in London. The website also notes that processing student visas in Nairobi takes approximately 665 days. In a statement sent to the Post, State Department spokesman Ned Price said visas are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Dennis Kiogora, founder of the Kenya Airlift Program, an initiative linking postgraduate students in Kenya with universities across the United States, said most students in his program could not get visas before the start date of September.

“It’s a huge crisis for us because we have so many bright students who have already been admitted to universities in the United States,” he said. “Most of the students who are supposed to show up in September have [visa] see you in 2023.” Kiogora added that since May, only 20 out of 140 students have received visas for the United States.

Allan Ngaruiya, 32, a participant in the Airlift program, said even with delays he will not be able to start his studies in the spring. He said his sponsor withdrew funding for his studies due to visa issues.

Elizabeth Wathuti, an environmental activist in Kenya, said she sometimes had to go to a foreign embassy with all her essential documents “to push” officials to process her visa application.

“I found myself going to the embassy on the day of my trip, telling them, ‘Here’s my plane ticket, I don’t have a visa and it’s all paid for,'” she said.

Tsui reported from Washington and Ombuor from Nairobi.

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