Seventy-one students who paid various sums of money to secure visas and other travel documents to participate in a model United Nations Conference in New York had their dreams dashed at the last hour when the United States Embassy in Ghana revoked their visas.
The Embassy, it is believed, suspects that the organisers of the conference, United Ambassadors, are not genuine.
The students, some of whom were turned away at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) and London’s Heathrow Airport, paid a total of $17,750 ($250 each) as delegates fee to United Ambassadors, the supposed facilitators of the conference, and GH¢53,818 (GH¢758 each) as visa fees to the US Embassy.
One of the students who was scheduled to travel by direct flight from Accra to New York on Delta Airlines bought a ticket at $2,300, while, together with seven others, he spent $2,100 on Airbnb Apartment in New York
Two students who were scheduled to fly out on August 5, 2018 were turned away by Delta Airlines at the check-in counter at the KIA.
A third student who travelled on British Airways on transit through Heathrow Airport in London was also prevented from connecting to New York for the same reason.
Letter revoking visa
Excerpts of an email the students received from the Consular Section of the US Embassy read: “Dear Applicant: You recently appeared at the US Embassy in Accra for a non-immigrant visa because you were attending the Model UN Conference in New York. This message is to alert you that the non-immigrant visa you received is no longer valid. You must not attempt to travel to the US with this visa. You will be denied boarding at the airport or you will be turned away at the US port of entry.
“If you still wish to travel to the US, you are REQUIRED to appear for a second interview at the US Embassy in Accra. At this second interview, you must bring all of your ORIGINAL Model UN Conference documentation that reflects this programme and your participation in it, such as brochures, letters, pamphlets, programs, guidebooks, welcome packets, or any other materials you have. Again, you MUST NOT travel to the US with the visa that you received. Your visa is no longer valid for travel.”
Meanwhile, when contacted, a representative of the US Embassy, Ms Zenab Mahama, told the Daily Graphic that the mission “does not discuss details of individuals’ visas”.
But one of the affected students, who spoke to the Daily Graphic on condition of anonymity, said the US Embassy had been unfair to them.
The student’s story
Going into the details, he said the students had a WhatsApp platform on which one of them sent the link of the conference and asked if the others were interested.
Those who showed interest created accounts on the website of United Ambassadors and applied to attend the conference.
They were then asked to write a motivational letter as to why they wanted to participate in the conference and it was accepted.
The group then applied for visas and eight out of 12 students were issued the visas on July 23, 2018.
Giving further details, one of the students said: “I bought a ticket, got to the airport, tried to check in and the airline staff said the US Embassy says I can’t travel and that we should go to the embassy to find out the reason.
“When we got to the US Embassy, they said they did not know what the problem was and that we should send them a mail, telling them what had happened at the airport.”
According to the student, they were asked to schedule an emergency appointment, and on the day of the interview they received an email from the embassy, telling them that their visas had been cancelled and that they could not enter the US.
Besides, he said, the US Embassy pointed out to them that while they could re-apply, they needed to provide all original documentations on the conference.
‘You’ve been scammed’
The source said on a different date, they submitted the itinerary of the conference, as well as a letter from the university, but they were told during the interview that they had been scammed.
“We were told that they made some calls to the UN and that those who sent the emails supposedly from the UN did not exist and that we had been scammed,” it said.
United Ambassadors’ responses
Bombarded with emails from the students seeking explanation for their plight, United Ambassadors lay the blame at the doorstep of the US Embassy.
The Founder and Academic Director of United Ambassadors, Mr Nabila Elassar, who responded to the mails, while touting the credibility of the organisation, insisted that the United Ambassadors had no control over visa issuance.