Discussing immigration from third world nations, President Trump famously said ‘Why do we want all these people from “shithole countries” coming here?’ That was in a meeting about cutting back on the 50,000 visas issued under what’s known as the diversity greencard lottery and Trump was talking about Haiti and El Salvador in particular. He (allegedly) said: ‘Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.’ Now, though, there are reports that the White House is adding seven countries to the list of those with extra high hurdles for a visitor’s or immigrant’s visa. They are, apparently, Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. The countries already on that list are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea.
The original list was all Muslim majority countries and the rules were labeled a ‘Muslim ban’ when the White House announced them seven days into Trump’s new term in office. This time, most of the new countries don’t have Muslim majorities but they do have high rates for people overstaying their visas when they come to the US. In 2018, for instance, one quarter of all visitors from Eritrea stayed longer than their visas allowed. One interesting inclusion on the list is Belarus. Only 20,000 Belarusians visit the US every year and only about 4 percent of them overstay. So is the whole country being penalized because just 800 Belarusians overslept and missed their flights?
Speaking in Davos, President Trump said the list was being expanded because of security concerns. ‘We have to be safe. Our country has to be safe.’ But, again, Belarus is not known as a place that sends terrorists to the US to carry out attacks. The then-national security adviser, John Bolton, visited Belarus in August last year and had a quite friendly discussion with the country’s president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Lukashenka is often described as ‘the last dictator in Europe’ and Bolton did complain about human rights. But he mentioned nothing about a Belarusian terrorism problem. Perhaps Trump is simply mad that they sent Bolton back to Washington DC from Minsk. Anyway, as the website Quartz reported, Belarusians are perplexed by their addition to the list.
But Belarusians do not seem that concerned by the new visa restrictions. The lead story on the Belarusian news agency at the moment is: ‘Lukashenko takes stock of Vitebsk Oblast agricultural sector’. The leaking of the new list may do no more than make things a little awkward for the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is due to visit Belarus on February 1. Perhaps Pompeo will even be relieved to arrive in Belarus. He goes there as part of a tour of countries that includes Ukraine, or ‘fucking Ukraine’ as he called it in an angry exchange with an NPR reporter.