The United States has enforced visa restrictions on individuals within the Bangladesh law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political opposition – individuals "responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh".
These individuals and their immediate family members may be barred from entering the US, said a press statement issued by the US Department of State on Friday (22 September).
Besides, additional persons found complicit in undermining the election may also be found ineligible for US visas under this policy in the future.
"This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of opposition and ruling political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services," the US said.
It said the actions reflect the US' continued commitment to supporting Bangladesh's goal of peacefully holding free and fair national elections.
"If someone supports a fair election, they have no reason to be concerned"
'Visa ineligibility fact-checked case-by-case'
Speaking with the Dhaka daily The Daily Star, US Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu said, "We have looked very closely at incidents since we announced this policy. After a careful review of the evidence, we have imposed visa restrictions on members of law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political opposition."
Donald Lu told The Daily Star, "This policy encompasses the entire democratic election process, extending beyond just election day. While the exact date of the election may not be known, it is evident that the electoral process is actively underway."
"Revoking US visas may also impact visa applications to other countries"
Replying to a question, Assistant Secretary Lou said, "The [State] Department determines an individual's ineligibility under the policy based on extensive, well-resourced, and fact-checked case-by-case review of credible information about those undermining the democratic process in Bangladesh. We apply this process equally and rigorously to government, opposition, and security services."
He also said, "We will not share the names of individuals who have received visa restrictions under this policy. Visa records, including individual visa denials, are confidential under US law."
Meanwhile, US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya on Thursday at a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the US wants a free, fair and violence-free election in Bangladesh.
The US move comes only a day after the Election Commission announced that the European Union has decided not to send observers during Bangladesh's upcoming national elections.
Earlier in May this year, the US unveiled a new visa policy for Bangladesh, under which the superpower decided to deny visas to individuals, from law enforcers to political leaders, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.
Soon after the announcement, Deputy Minister for Education Mohibul Hasan Chowdhury Nowfel took to social media platform X to criticise the move as "hypocritical".
However, Humayun Kabir, former ambassador of Bangladesh to the US, told The Business Standard, "I think there are both positive and negative incentives to this visa policy.
"If someone supports a fair election, they have no reason to be concerned. If someone creates obstacles, they will come under the visa policy."
The former ambassador said, "Basically, those who have ties to the US relating to trade and travel will suffer. And those who do not have such ties, do not need to be concerned about it. There's no reason to think it will affect all processes."
Humayun Kabir continued, "It is our responsibility to make elections credible to the participants. If we do, it will be positive for us, and if we don't, there will be negative consequences."
Asked how effective the visa policy would be if the elections do not turn out participatory, he said, "It is not possible to say on our part. They will apply the visa policy based on their assessment."
'Unlikely to affect regular immigrants'
When the US in May this year announced that it would apply a new visa policy, former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain told TBS that the policy is unlikely to affect regular immigrants.
High-ups of the political parties and state branches like the administration and security forces, more specifically those directly involved in undermining free and fair elections, will be barred from US visas, he said.
"I think this move is not only limited to the election day, but also activities involved in creating the election atmosphere," the former commissioner said.
Moreover, this policy will affect Bangladesh's image, emphasising that revoking US visas may also impact visa applications to other countries.