The United States Embassy in Nairobi has issued 253,047 visas to Kenyans in the last 21 years, Nation.co.ke can reveal.
According to data provided by the US Department of State, the embassy issued 221,128 non-immigrant visas and 31,919 immigrant visas from October 1991 to September 2012.
Non-immigrant visas are issued to those who are intending to visit the US for a short period while immigrant visas are issued to those who intend to move to the US permanently.
The data was obtained after a joint request for information to the Department of State under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Daily Nation and a Kenyan news website in the US jambonewspot.com.
According to the data, 36,508 Kenyans were issued with F1 visas commonly known as student visas in the same period while 150,266 were issued with B1/B2 visas which are issued for business or tourism purposes.
The report also shows that 6,157 Kenyans were issued with J1 visas which are issued to those travelling for cultural and exchange education opportunities.
14 special immigrant visas have been issued over the same period. Those granted were broadcasters or religious leaders who are eligible to apply for permanent residence commonly known as the Green Card.
The highest number of visas was issued between October 2000 and September 2001 where 18,343 Kenyans entered the US. During that period, 13,098 business and tourist visas were issued while 3,457 visas were issued to students.
Kenyans who immigrated to the US during the said period also managed to successfully petition for their relatives to join them; 5,715 close relatives of Green Card winners and those Kenyans who had adopted US citizenship were granted immigrant visas.
The relatives include spouses of US citizens, unmarried children under 21 years of age of a US citizen, orphans adopted by US citizens and parents of a US citizen who is over 21 years of age.
2,311 Kenyans regarded processed under the family preference category were also issued with immigrant visas.
These are relatively removed from the US citizen or Green Card holder. They may be children of their unmarried sons and daughters or married sons and daughters of a US citizen and their spouses and minor children.
In the period between 2007 and 2012, 208 A1 and A2 visas (diplomatic) were issued to former President Mwai Kibaki and other current or former government officials who travelled to the US to represent the country on official government business.
Heads of State automatically qualify for an A1 visa regardless of the nature of their visit to the US. Other government officials qualify for A1 or A2 only if they are travelling to the US on official government business.
CHOSE TO STAY
If not on official business, they would have to apply for other specified categories. The data provided by the State Department only shows the status of Kenyans at the time of visa issuance in Nairobi.
It does not capture those Kenyans who changed their visa status once they landed in the US. This data is only available from the US Department of Homeland Security the agency in charge of immigration issues once an immigrant enters the US.
There are many Kenyans who came in as students but are now permanent residents or US citizens while there may be a significant number of those that entered the country as business people as well as tourists and who later chose to stay.
In addition, Kenyans were arriving in the US as early as the 1950s which is about 40 years removed from the report.
Barack Obama Senior who was the father to US President Barack Obama was among 81 Kenyans who arrived in the US in 1959 after receiving scholarships from the African American Students Foundation.
The data also does not capture those Kenyans who entered the US from other countries as the data only shows those Kenyans processed at the US Embassy in Nairobi.
The raging debate on exactly how many Kenyans reside in the US still remains as many of them now have kids who are now Americans but who may qualify for Kenyan citizenship under the new constitution.
In the run up to the March 2013 polls, Kenyans in the Diaspora sought to have the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) register them as voters but the efforts were unsuccessful.
However, during the 2013 Kenya Diaspora Conference in Virginia, the polls body chairman Isaack Hassan said that the commission will next year put together a conference on Diaspora voting dubbed “National Conference on Diaspora voting.”
He also said that the IEBC website will debut a Diaspora portal to engage those Kenyans who live abroad.
He however said that the government and various embassies around the world do not have accurate numbers of Kenyans living abroad and urged Kenyans to register with their missions for the government to have adequate data on the numbers to enable the commission plan and implement the much waited Diaspora voting.-nation.co.ke