248% surge in US visa applications from Pakistan between 2021-2022 — Gallup

The undated photo shows Consulate General of the United States in Karachi, Pakistan. (US Embassy & Consulates in Islamabad)
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Updated 22 September 2023

248% surge in US visa applications from Pakistan between 2021-2022 — Gallup

  • ‘Overwhelming increase’ in 2022 could be attributable to lifting of coronavirus travel restrictions
  • US consulate said this week it had expedited visa application process amid ‘unprecedented’ demand

ISLAMABAD: Gallup Pakistan said in a report published this week visa applications from Pakistan for the United States increased by 248 percent percent between 2021 and 2022, likely owed to the lifting of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The analysis draws data from the United States Department of State and covers a substantial timeframe, starting from 1998 and extending up to 2022. A primary focus of the analysis was to assess the overall volume of visa applications from Pakistanis for the United States, including a detailed examination of the numerical figures, highlighting both high and low points over the years.
The United States consulate in Karachi said this week it had expedited the US visa application process for Pakistanis and was working to reduce wait times amid “unprecedented” demand.
“Applications increased in the past decade compared to the previous one, with a notable 248 percent surge in 2022,” Gallup said in its report.
“The overwhelming increase in applications in 2022 could be attributable, among other things, to those who could not travel in the 2019-2021 period due to Covid19. The average applications decreased from 65,385 in 2015-2015 to 37,913 in 2019-2021. Once the pandemic restrictions were lifted, it would be plausible to assume that those who were intending to go to the US for business or education purposes over the past three years, applied for visas at their earliest.”
Looking at data 1998 onwards, the highest applications were received in the years 2000 (88,791), after which they saw a steep decline until the 2010s. The second highest point in application frequency was reached in 2016 (76,637), followed closely by 2022 (72,082). The average over the past 20 years, represented by the trendline, remained 47,566 applications.
“The steep decline in 2020 and 2021 may be attributed to the travel restrictions and lockdowns that were imposed due to Covid-19,” the Gallup report said. “Other than this period, Pakistan’s visa applications to the US were lowest in 2003 (24,092), followed by 2004 (24,934).”
Among different visa types, in immigrant visas, K-visa applications spiked between 2003 and 2010 while E-visa applications remained consistently low.
In non-Immigrant Visas, B-1/B-2 visas had the most applications, with a dip in 2021 followed by a rebound to 58,152 in 2022. F1 visa applications showed a rising trend, reaching 3,540 in 2022. H-visa applications fluctuated over the years, with the highest in 2001 (5,555) and the lowest in 2020 (704). A-category visa applications increased from 2008 to 2020, surpassing H-visa applications during this period.
The US consulate in Karachi said on Tuesday the demand for US visas was the highest it had ever been in the South Asian country and it was “working hard” to bring down visa appointment wait times.
“We have expedited thousands of non-immigrant visa appointments. More than ten thousand Pakistani visa applicants originally scheduled for 2024 at the US Consulate General in Karachi are receiving notice that their appointments have been rescheduled in 2023, some as early as next week,” the consulate said in a statement.
“To create added flexibility for Pakistani travelers, visa applicants can rebook appointments at either the Consulate General in Karachi or US Embassy in Islamabad.”
Starting September 25, the US consulate said, it would also start accepting new interview waiver applications for some applicants who had previously been issued US visas.
“These steps demonstrate how deeply the United States values the relationship between our two countries,” it added.

‘Welcome’ sign prompts closure of Afghan-Pakistan crossing

Updated 10 sec ago

‘Welcome’ sign prompts closure of Afghan-Pakistan crossing

  • Development takes place amid increasingly fraught relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • Afghan official says negotiations between both sides are going on to ‘solve this problem’

PESHAWAR: A “Welcome to Pakistan” sign meant to greet travelers from Afghanistan instead caused the shutdown of the busiest crossing between the two nations on Wednesday, as officials on both sides argued over its installation.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have had increasingly fraught relations in recent months, with Islamabad accusing the Taliban government of failing to root out militants staging attacks on Pakistan from Afghan soil — a claim Kabul has denied.

In response to the rising militancy, Islamabad has forced the deportation or voluntary transfer of Afghans it says are living illegally in the country, with more than 400,000 crossing over since October, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

A senior Pakistan border official said the Torkham crossing was closed to vehicles on Wednesday after “the Taliban objected to the installation of a billboard in Pakistani territory saying ‘Welcome to Pakistan’.”

The official, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP the closure was caused by “Taliban who were unhappy with Pakistan’s deportation policy” and “the installation of the billboard was just an excuse.”

On the Afghan side, Quraishi Badloon from Nangarhar province’s information and culture department confirmed that the closure was because “the Pakistani side wanted to install a welcome signboard.”

He said “tension increased” because it was to be erected on “Afghan soil” and there were suspicions the signage was being used as a guise to open a new gate encroaching across the border.

“Talks are ongoing to solve this problem,” he told AFP.

The Nangarhar governor’s office also said the welcome sign caused the closure.

Each side blamed the other for closing the border to vehicles, though it remained open to pedestrians.

This year the Torkham crossing — equidistant between Islamabad and Kabul — has been frequently shut, with tensions sometimes spilling over into armed clashes between border guards across the frontier.

Many of those leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan since Islamabad announced the migrant crackdown left through the Torkham crossing, a vital waypoint for trade between the countries.

No government in Kabul has ever recognized the colonial-era demarcation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, leading to a long history of border disputes.

Pakistan says Gaza war ‘alarming sign of apathy of the world’

Updated 11 min 12 sec ago

Pakistan says Gaza war ‘alarming sign of apathy of the world’

  • Israeli warplanes are bombarding targets across Gaza in one of the heaviest phases of fighting in two months
  • Gaza health ministry has confirmed over 15,800 dead and thousands missing, feared buried beneath rubble

ISLAMABAD: President Dr. Arif Alvi said on Wednesday the ongoing war in Gaza was an “alarming sign of the apathy of the world,” adding that the modern world needed an approach based on “love, empathy, and forgiveness.”

Israeli warplanes bombarded targets across the densely populated coastal territory on Wednesday in one of the heaviest phases of fighting in the two months since Israel began its military campaign in Gaza in October. Palestinian medics said hospitals were overflowing with the dead and wounded, many of them women and children, and supplies were running out. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people driven out of the north were seeking shelter in the dwindling number of places designated as safe areas by Israel. Gaza’s health ministry has confirmed over 15,800 dead and thousands missing, feared buried beneath the rubble, since the war began.

After largely gaining control of northern Gaza, Israeli troops and tanks pushed further south and encircled Khan Younis in the south after a week-long truce collapsed last week. 

“The civilized world today has forgotten the principles of morality and is witnessing the prevalence of wars waged by powerful against weaker segments,” Alvi said while addressing the inaugural session of the Islamabad Conclave 2023, themed, ‘Pakistan in a Changing World’ organized by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI).

“The situation in Gaza is an alarming sign of the apathy of the world which could not stop the massacre of innocent people including women and children.”

The president regretted that the “gruesome images” coming out of Gaza had failed to “awaken the world’s conscience.”

“The current world urgently requires an approach centered on love, empathy, and forgiveness,” he added.

Pakistan’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, Ambassador Asif Durrani, said the conflict between Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Israel had diverted global attention from war-torn Afghanistan, where over 95 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.

“For instance, humanitarian assistance promised last year was close to $4.2 billion and only one part of that has been committed and has actually been materialized,” Durrani said in his address at the conference.

Yara Mourad, Assistant Director of AUB Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, said the war by Israel had jeopardized growing stability in the Middle East.

“Following the reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the establishment of relationships between the Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates with Qatar, this conflict, the most severe since Naqba [1948], has placed the region in greater danger than ever before,” she said.

Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hits century in Australia warm-up

Updated 06 December 2023

Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hits century in Australia warm-up

  • Masood steer Pakistan to 324-6 at stumps on the opening day of the four-day fixture
  • Pakistan will face Australia in three Tests, in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, from Dec. 14

SYDNEY: New Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hit an unbeaten 156 on Wednesday in a warm-up match in Canberra ahead of their three-Test series against Australia.
After winning the toss and opting to bat against a Prime Minister’s XI, he came to the crease when opener Imam-ul-Haq was dismissed for nine.
Masood batted for the rest of the day, smashing 13 fours and a six to steer Pakistan to 324-6 at stumps on the opening day of the four-day fixture.
Sarfaraz Ahmed made 41 and star batter Babar Azam, who stood down as captain in all formats of the game after their disastrous one-day World Cup, hit 40.
Australia’s bowlers labored on a flat pitch at Manuka Oval with speedster Jordan Buckingham the pick with 3-63.
All-rounder Cameron Green, who has been sidelined from the Test side by Mitchell Marsh, did not turn his arm.
It proved a long day in the field for aspiring Australian Test openers Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matt Renshaw, who are vying to replace David Warner when he retires from the longer format after the Pakistan series.
The visitors meet Australia in three Tests — in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney — from December 14.

Pakistan PM says Imran Khan free to contest upcoming general elections in February

Updated 06 December 2023

Pakistan PM says Imran Khan free to contest upcoming general elections in February

  • Khan has been disqualified from holding public office on charges of corruption, though he has appealed the verdict
  • Kakar says no evidence of ‘state coercion’ against PTI leaders who went ‘underground’ after May 9 to avoid arrests

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has said the country’s former premier Imran Khan does not face legal obstacles to contest the upcoming general elections and is likely to participate in them next year in February.

Khan, who has been in jail since August 5 following a conviction in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, faces several other cases which he deems “politically motivated” to exclude him from politics.

While his three-year sentence was suspended by the Islamabad High Court, he remains incarcerated on charges of leaking state secrets by revealing the contents of a confidential diplomatic cable which he says proves US involvement in toppling his administration, a claim consistently refuted by American officials.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party alleges a crackdown against its leaders as “pre-poll rigging,” but Kakar, in an exclusive interview with Independent Urdu published Wednesday, dismissed any “state coercion” against political parties.

“His party and up till now, he himself faces no legal restrictions that would keep him from contesting the elections. So, until the schedule is announced or something unforeseen happens which we are not aware of yet, during this conversation, then I can’t say anything. Till today, he is in the position of contesting, and he will contest.”

“There is no legal restriction on him [Khan] or his party that is keeping them away from the political or election process,” the prime minister said. “Until the [election] schedule is announced or something unforeseen happens which we are not aware of at the time of this conversation, then I can’t say anything. Until today, he is in the position of contesting [the polls], and he will contest.”

Khan has been disqualified from holding public office after he was found guilty of corrupt practices in the case in which he was given a three-year sentence. His legal team has appealed the verdict, though the final decision remains pending in the matter.

The former prime minister’s party has also complained about the “disappearance” of its leaders since the violent protests of May 9 when people holding PTI flags targeted government buildings and military installations after Khan was briefly arrested on graft charges.

When asked about the claims, Kakar said these leaders were actually going “underground” on their own to avoid arrests.

Many of them, he added, ultimately decided to quit PTI or politics altogether.

The prime minister described it as their personal decision while pointing out there was no evidence of “state coercion” in all those cases.

Hollywood icons ignite excitement at Red Sea Film Festival in support of Pakistani cinema

Updated 06 December 2023

Hollywood icons ignite excitement at Red Sea Film Festival in support of Pakistani cinema

  • The surprise appearance of Will Smith and Johnny Depp to endorse ‘Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning’ left people ecstatic
  • Ayyar is a famous character from a classical Urdu literary work comprising epic tales, widely read by people in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Hollywood superstars Will Smith and Johnny Depp stole the spotlight at the prestigious Red Sea International Film Festival with a surprise appearance on Tuesday to support the Pakistani film, “Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning.”

The two renowned icons of the American film industry enjoy an extensive fan following worldwide, including in Pakistan, which left the viewers excited about Pakistani film production with their presence.

The Red Sea Festival, set against the picturesque backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s seaside city, Jeddah, serves as a global platform for filmmakers to celebrate and showcase diverse cinematic creations from around the world.

Smith and Depp posed with Umro Ayyar’s executive producer, Huma Jamil Babar, and interacted with the public.

“How exciting it is,” exclaimed a Pakistani journalist, Afshan Younus, who shared a video of Smith getting a locket from Babar. “Hollywood meets Pakistani cinema in style!”

Another social media user, Nazish Alavi, called the cross-cultural support by the Hollywood actors a “big moment” for her.

“Watching Hollywood superstar Will Smith wearing #UmroAyyarANewBeginning pendant and The Johnny Depp supporting a Pakistani movie is such a big moment for me,” she said. “Best of luck to @TheUMROAYYAR.”

Umro Ayyar is one of the most famous characters from the legendary “Dastan-e-Amir Hamza,” a classical Urdu literary work comprising epic tales, widely read by many in Pakistan.

Speaking to Arab News in May, lead actor Sanam Saeed mentioned that Ayyar’s character was being adapted for the screen in a “new-age way” and receiving a “revamp” for modern times.

“Dastan-e-Amir Hamza” is the Urdu version of the Persian folklore written by Ghalib Lakhnavi in 1855, featuring a collection of stories about magic, adventure, and intrigue.

The film “Umro Ayyar” is an attempt to reimagine the story for a new generation of Pakistani and global audiences.