What’s the right number of visas?

Feb 10th, 2012 | By | Category: Express Tribune

Passport visa

Over 50,000 Americans were granted visas to Pakistan since the past four years, media reported this week. When you hear that bit of news, what does it tell you? Does it tell you that Pakistan has become a top tourist destination? Or does it tell you that every province and village is overrun with Blackwater agents and Raymond Davises? What should this media headline tell you?

Express Tribune reported that over 50,000 Americans were issued visas to visit Pakistan between 2008 and 2011. The information was provided by the Foreign Ministry in response to a question by PML-Q Senator SM Zafar. According to the Express Tribune report, 13,115 were categorised as those for diplomats and other senior officials, and over 2,200 were given after approval from the defence ministry. That means that around 38,979 visas were given for American citizens who were not diplomats or senior US officials over a four year period – or about 9,745 each year.

What the report doesn’t tell us is who those 9,745 people are.

According to 2010 US Census data, at least 409,163 Americans have Pakistani ancestry. What percentage of those 9,745 who travel to Pakistan each year are visiting family or perhaps visiting their ancestral country for the first time?

What about Americans who do business in Pakistan? American Business Council of Pakistan has 67 members – most of whom are Fortune 500 companies – that operate in all sectors of Pakistan’s economy. They include business giants like AT&T, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Cisco Systems, Microsoft and IBM just to name a few.

What about American journalists in Pakistan? Or aid workers? What about the American friends of Pakistanis who come for weddings? What about tourists who come to witness our incredible cultural heritage?

Total US population is over 307 million. That means that each year, less than .00003 per cent of Americans are coming to Pakistan, and there are over 18,471 Pakistanis for every American with a visa. More proof that Americans are not invading after all.

It should also be noted that the comparable numbers are not provided for visas issued to citizens of other countries. A horse is large compared to a dog, but not compared to an elephant. Is 50,000 visas a lot? Compared to what? Even the number in the headline – 50,000 – is the total over four years, not the number of Americans who had visas at the same time. How many Americans are here at any given time? How many Chinese are here? How many Afghans? And how many foreigners who are not Americans come without going through the proper visa process int the first place?

Unfortunately, the Express Tribune reporter doesn’t answer any of these questions. We are left to decide for ourselves who these Americans are. And when we are constantly fed conspiracy theories and doom-and-gloom scenarios, how should we be expected to interpret a headline like, ‘Over 50,000 Americans issued Pakistani visa from 2008 to 2011’?

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