The United States has imposed visa restrictions on Ghana following a row over the deportation of Ghanaians staying illegally in the United States. The move, which goes into effect on February 4, will also affect government employees and politicians.
US officials have accused the West African country of refusing to accept the return of Ghanian nationals that it wants to deport.
“Secretary of State (Mike) Pompeo has ordered consular officers in Ghana to implement visa restrictions on certain categories of visa applicants,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
“Without an appropriate response from Ghana, the scope of these sanctions may be expanded to a wider population,” it said.
It said those affected by the ban would include the domestic staff of diplomats posted to the US.
“In addition, consular officers will limit the validity period and number of entries on new tourist and business visas (B1, B2, and B1/B2) for all Ghanaian executive and legislative branch employees, their spouses, and their children under 21 to one-month, single-entry visas,” it added.
Washington said it had been discussing the matter with the Ghanaian authorities since July 2016.
“The United States values its vibrant partnership with Ghana, and remains committed to working together with the Government of Ghana to resolve the situation.”
Some 7,000 Ghanaians are living illegally in the United States, according to the US embassy in Accra.
Washington said the sanctions would not be lifted until Ghanaian authorities comply with the directives.
“We hope the Ghanaian government will work with us to reconcile these deficiencies quickly,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
There was no immediate comment from the Ghanaian government.
With less than 30 million people, Ghana doesn’t crack the list of Africa’s 10 most-populous nations. But in both 2017 and 2018, it ranked behind only Nigeria in nationals removed from the United States, according to a report from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In 2017, 305 Ghanians were removed; in 2018, the number dipped to 243. Nigeria, meanwhile, jumped from 312 removals in 2017 to 369 in 2018, despite having a population seven times larger than Ghana’s.
But both African nations fell far short of Mexico, which had 141,045 people removed in 2018, a 10 percent increase from 2017.
Removals include people ordered to be deported after entering the United States and those denied entry at the border.
Ghana isn’t the first African nation to be on the receiving end of visa restrictions. In August 2017, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone all faced visa sanctions.
The United States typically imposes visa restrictions after other efforts to enforce compliance with deportations fail.
“We hope the Ghanaian government will work with us to reconcile these deficiencies quickly,” Nielsen said.
According to data compiled by the Pew Research Center in 2017, about 155,000 Ghanaian-born people live in the United States, making them the fourth-largest group of Africans in the country.