By Sam Doku, Ph.D.
The Ghana Embassy in Washington, DC has been accused of making things difficult for Ghanaians with American passports, who have to acquire visas anytime they want to visit. The problem reached such alarming proportions that some Ghanaian residents of Atlanta go through travel agents for their visas.
Some of the accusations leveled against the Embassy are false claims of having lost passports of applicants, deliberate procrastination, rudeness, and unprofessionalism. President of Atlanta International Travel, Inc., Mr. Matthews Kurian, was almost at a loss for words as he bitterly complained about some of the measures he has to resort to in order to acquire visas for Ghanaians to enable them to travel to Ghana.
Kurian showed us some of the faxes he sent to the Consulate before visas were issued: Some of the faxes read: “My customer is still waiting for his passport containing his visa to visit his ailing parents in Ghana. Thank you for your cooperation.”
This was probably the first case Mr. Kurian took on after this particular individual went and reported to him that after applying for the visa, anytime he called for his passport and the visa, he was told his passport could not be found. After waiting for a couple of months, he called again, and on that occasion, he was told that his passport was probably lost.
Another case was that of another Ghanaian applying for a visa, but she had to wait for a long time without anything happening. Mr. Kurian faxed the Consulate in a tone more sarcastic than serious: “I admire your hard work. I thank you for issuing my customer with her visa. Happy Thanksgiving.”
When the Consulate got that fax, Mr. Kurian’s customer received her visa and passport a few days later.
An anonymous and venerable member of the Ghanaian community in Atlanta said, “Some of the Ghanaians at the Embassy are not that bad; they are not evil. But the problem is that when they come here, they still behave like they are in Ghana, so they are not accustomed to the systemic efficiency of the United States. They do things as if they are still in Ghana.”
However, Patrick Alomatu, an Embassy employee who works at the Consular section, debunked the claims as grossly exaggerated. “We know we have some challenges to overcome,” said Alomatu, “but it is not true that we deliberately frustrate naturalized Americans who want to obtain visas to America. We have a system to follow by anyone who wants to obtain a visa to Ghana, but some Ghanaians always want preferential treatment. When that doesn’t happen, then they become peeved and frustrated.”
Alomatu further noted that anyone who wants to apply for a visa can do so by mailing his or her application together with the passport with registered mail, which has a tracking number and a return registered envelope with the appropriate visa fee of $60 for a single entry and $100 for multiple entries.
“If this simple condition is followed, there would be no problem, but sometimes some mail their passports without filling out the form. And sometimes, when the form is filled out, there would be no return envelope, so it becomes problematic for us to return those passports,” Alomatu noted.
In this age of technology, the Embassy still processes everything manually, so it takes more time than usual to process visas. According to Alomatu, there are only two people in the Consular section dealing with visa acquisition, so they don’t accept phone calls since the sheer volume of calls that come to the office on a daily basis can prevent them from doing any work if they were to be taking phone calls. As a result, business with the Embassy is conducted through email, and that has been emphatically stated on the Embassy’s website.
“Our main challenge is doing everything manually. However, plans are underway for us to go biometrics, and everything will be computerized. I think that will solve many of the problems people are complaining about,” assured Alomatu.
Ken Appiah, another Embassy employee said that sometimes people just like to complain without any justification. “One day a lady called complaining about having received her passport after doing everything stipulated by the Embassy. So, I took her tracking number and when I went and checked, her passport had been sitting in her mailbox for days,” Appiah lamented.
Part of the problem wrought by the manual system is that payments are difficult to track after sometime, when payees have lost their receipts. A middle-aged man, who wanted to go by the name Nicholas, encountered one of such unfortunate incidents. Three years ago, Nicholas became a naturalized U.S. citizen and decided to go to the Embassy to pay to be issued with his dual citizenship card. When he went to the Embassy to get the card, he could not find his receipt. Almost four years on, Nicholas has still not been issued with his card because he had lost his receipt.
According to Alomatu, current Ghana Ambassador to the U.S., Lieutenant-General (Ret) Joseph Henry Smith is determined to bring the Embassy into the 21st century with the installation of the biometrics.
Finally, Alomatu returned the favor of the accusation that the staff at the Embassy are too embroiled in the problematic Ghanaian mentality phenomenon, so they refuse to appreciate and follow the systemic efficiency of the host nation. He said, “Ghanaians in the U.S. should stop behaving as if they are too important to follow simple rules. Always wanting to be treated preferentially doesn’t bode well for anybody. It only brings about unnecessary delays.”