Indian Diplomacy

After Push From US Senators, Kashmiri Athletes Granted Visas

Abid Hussain Khan and Tanvir Hussain had first been denied visas on January 30 and told that the reason behind the rejection was “current policies.”


Tanveer Hussain, a Kashmiri athlete who was initially denied a US visa to take part in a New York international championship. Credit: Facebook/World Snowshoe Federation

New Delhi: After pressure from at least two US senators and a small town community in the US, two athletes from Jammu and Kashmir, who were earlier denied visas to the country to participate in the World Snowshoe Championships, have finally received the green signal to attend the event.

Abid Hussain Khan and Tanvir Hussain had first applied and been denied visas on January 30 by the US embassy in New Delhi. They were told that their visas were rejected due to the “current policies”, which was interpreted as a fallout of Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.

The mayor of the New York state village of Saranac Lake, which was hosting the championship, had said that “it was difficult not to consider” that the presidential order issued on January 27 had played a role in the decision.

When the India’s Ministry of External Affairs had asked for a response from the American mission, the US embassy “categorically denied that it has any linkage to the executive order”.

The US embassy gave additional details for the reason behind the rejection to the Democrat senator from New York Chuck Schumer. Schumer’s office said Hussain and Khan were determined to be ineligible for visas “due to a failure to demonstrate strong ties … to assure their departure after a limited stay in the United States,” according to the local newspaper Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

With their case highlighted in the media and taken up by their hosts with the US government, the duo reapplied for US visas and got another chance this week.

The second visa interview held on February 17 was much different than the one conducted over two weeks ago, which was a quick one. “We had a detailed discussion that lasted for over one hour,” Khan, who is the general secretary of the Snowshoe Federation of India, told The Wire.

They showed all their documents, including the financial and family links, which guaranteed that they would return from the US. “The officer asked a lot of questions, which allowed us the opportunity to show all the documents,” he added. They pointed out that they had travelled to several international events and returned back home as scheduled.

The official conducting the interview also questioned the two about why they told the media that denial of their visa application was linked to the US president’s travel ban. “I showed him what we had said exactly… Also told him that interpretation of how people depicted it was not under our control. He seemed to understand”.

At the end, both of them were told that their visa application had been accepted. “He told us our application has been accepted and hoped that we will travel soon,” Khan said.

Khan added that the change in the US embassy’s decision was entirely due to the push made by Saranac Lake residents and the US senators. “It is a small town with a very well-knit community. They really made all effort to get us there. They even told us that if you don’t get visas, we will rally behind the flag,” he said.

He especially thanked New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

“MEA said that we had not contacted the ministry, but we had e-mailed our case to the official IDs of the minister Sushma Swaraj and the minister of state M.J. Akbar. We also had written to the sports minister. But, frankly we knew that since the sports ministry was not directly funding us, it would be difficult for them to pursue our case,” Khan said.

The Saranac Lake mayor Clyde Rabideau also credited to the US senators for the changed decision.

“I think all three of our federal representatives were on this, but the two I heard back from where the two senators (Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand). Schumer’s office was in daily contact with me, Abid and Tanveer and the New Delhi consulate. They really pushed this.” Rabideau Adirondak told the local paper.

The mayor also opened an account on a crowd funding website to generate $1500 for the visa expenses for the two Indian athletes.

With their passports expected to be released on February 22, they are planning to fly out the same day.

Meanwhile, Khan is buoyed enough to have higher ambitions for the sport of snow shoeing, which includes trying to host the world championship in India.

“We have got the permission from our sponsors, Jammu and Kashmir tourism to bid for the world championship. The deadline is gone for 2018. But, we don’t know if anybody has bid for it yet. If no one has done it so far, we will bid to host the world championship in 2018,” he told The Wire.