India's New Prime Minister Visits the US (After Visa Denial)

by Protima Daryanani

India's recently-elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, visited the US arriving last week. It was a whirlwind tour featuring appearances at the United Nations, Madison Square Garden, the White House, and an impromptu stop at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. He even co-authored (with President Obama) an op-ed for The Washington Post, where they proposed "to find mutually rewarding ways to expand our collaboration in trade, investment and technology that harmonize with India’s ambitious development agenda, while sustaining the United States as the global engine of growth." And perhaps the ultimate sign of welcome, Jon Stewart covered the visit in his own unique style.

But he wasn’t always welcome in the US with such open arms. In 2005, when Mr. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he was denied a visa to the US under regulations that denied visas to those who were believed to have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” (The denial of this diplomatic visa also resulted in his visitor visa being revoked, effectively resulting in a visa ban.) The accusations arose out of claims that Mr. Modi stood by or even encouraged religious riots in which over 1000 people, mostly Muslim, were killed. Mr. Modi denied all wrong doing and was eventually cleared of all charges.

When Mr. Modi was elected as Prime Minister of India, however, he was invited to the US and granted a diplomatic visa.  The Obama administration was keen to overlook the visa ban as a decision of the previous administration. During his visit to the US, Mr. Modi even made reference to his past visa difficulties, “saying he understood when fellow Indians complained of problems obtaining a visa.” Given his understanding of the visa process, we hope that he talked to President Obama about how to get more H-1B visas, which are typically used in large percentages by Indian nationals. At any rate, Mr. Modi said: "'My visit has been very successful.'"