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Bangla visitors on US watchlist

Washington, Jan. 17: India’s recent charges that Dhaka had become a haven for terrorists found an indirect echo here this week with the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) adding Bangladesh to its list of countries whose nationals visiting or temporarily staying in America must be fingerprinted, photographed and registered with the authorities.

The decision was greeted with anger from Dhaka, which has been loudly protesting its innocence on the terrorist charge, detaining foreign journalists for fear of reports on the issue and cracking down on everybody but the terrorists themselves.

Pakistan is already on this list and its foreign minister, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, has advanced a visit to the US by 10 days to Sunday to urgently discuss the issue with authorities here.

Kasuri’s decision follows widespread panic among Pakistanis in the US over the registration procedure, largescale arrests of Pakistanis who tried to register and the flight of hundreds of Pakistani families from the US to Canada seeking political asylum.

Bangladesh was added to the 25-nation list this week along with Indonesia and three countries closely allied to the US militarily and politically: Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait. All but North Korea on this list of 25 are countries with a majority of Muslims.

With the latest additions, all Bangladeshi males over 16 years arriving in the US or living here as non-immigrants must register between February 24 and March 28. US citizens of Bangladeshi origin and those holding green cards are exempt. So are refugees and diplomats.

It is estimated that there are about 100,000 Bangladeshis in the US. A large number of them are waiting for their green cards and would, therefore, fall in a grey area regarding their ability to stay on in this country.

The US is the biggest overseas market for Bangladeshi garments and there are fears that the new rule will affect business as exporters face hassles not only on arrival but also in getting visas to America.

The US ambassador to Bangladesh tried to douse the rising anger in Dhaka over the restrictions in a statement that registration was to “better track all foreign visitors” to the US.

The envoy said it was part of a long-term initiative.

“It is important to note that the registration system applies only to temporary visitors to the US and does not apply to arriving immigrants, permanent residents and American citizens of Bangladesh descent.”

Therefore, she claimed that the majority of travellers from Bangladesh to the US would not be subject to the new restrictions.

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