ISLAMABAD - Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi Tuesday said the United States had imposed no visa sanctions on Pakistanis.

He, however, added the US had banned visas for three high-level Pakistani officials, including the joint secretary of the foreign ministry.

“The ban was imposed for not taking back Pakistani immigrants who are illegally residing in US,” he told the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs committee.

The meeting was held in Parliament House with Malik Mohammed Ehsan Ullah Tiwana in the chair. The meeting was attended by Muhammad Ameer Sultan, Syed Fakhar Imam, Makhdoom Zain Hussain Qureshi, Munaza Hassan, Fazal Muhammad Khan, Maleeka Ali Bukhari, Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Ali Zahid, Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, Zahra Wadood Fatemi, and officials of the Foreign Affairs ministry.

On the US deporting Pakistanis, the foreign minister said that 70 illegal immigrants will be returning to Pakistan. “The United States has arranged a special chartered plane to send these immigrants back to Islamabad from Texas. The individuals were detained and prosecuted for immigration violations, criminal conduct and other serious charges,” he added.

Earlier, Foreign Office had termed misleading the reports about a US Federal Registry notification on introduction of new rules on consular matters.

The Foreign Office said there were ongoing discussions between Pakistan and the United States on consular matters including repatriation issues.

The statement said: “We understand that the US government would continue the normal consular operations at their Embassy in Islamabad and the ongoing discussions would not affect issuance of visas to routine Pakistani applicants.”

Last month, the US had imposed sanctions on Pakistan as Islamabad has refused to take back its citizen deportees and visa over-stayers.

“Consular operations in Pakistan remain unchanged. This is a bilateral issue of ongoing discussion between the US and Pakistani governments and we are not going to get into the specifics at the time,” a State Department spokesperson said.

According to the State Department's federal register notification, dated April 22, “for some countries sanctions begin by targeting officials who work in the ministries responsible for accepting the return of that country's nationals with escalation scenarios that target family members of those officials and potentially officials of other ministries and then other categories of applicants if initial sanctions do not prove effective at encouraging greater cooperation on removals by the targeted government.”

Section 243 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides for discontinuance of visa issuance as a penalty for those countries that refuse or ‘unreasonably delay’ accepting the return of their deported nationals. The US has already introduced visa restrictions on Ghana, Guyana, the Gambia, Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Myanmar and Laos.

During the NA foreign affairs committee meeting, Qureshi briefed the committee members on multiple issues. Speaking about peace talks between Afghanistan and the US, he said that Pakistan played an important role in the peace talks.

He added that whenever there was no breakthrough in the peace talks between US and Afghanistan, Pakistan is made the scapegoat.

The FM said that he had called an all embassies meeting on June 27. The meeting will discuss the promotion of economic diplomacy.

Qureshi claimed India had been selling Pakistani basmati rice in the international market. To control this illegal activity, he suggested imposing a ban on sending Pakistani basmati rice to Qatar.

The FM told the Committee that he will pay two-day visit to Kuwait on May 18 and will have meetings with the Kuwaiti leadership. The minister said he will also take a letter from Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Emir of Kuwait on visa issue.

He said enhancement of bilateral trade will be discussed in the meetings. He said the Emir of Qatar was also expected to visit Pakistan in near future. 

Later, speaking to journalists, the Foreign Minister expressed concern over tension between Iran and the United States, saying it would impact the region. He said Pakistan is closely observing the situation and will formulate a strategy keeping in view the national interest.

The FM said Pakistan wanted to make progress on multi-billion dollar Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline project but there was third party hurdle in the form of sanctions against Iran. “We are discussing this issue with Iran,” he added.

The Foreign Minister said Pakistan and China were reviewing the matter of human smuggling and an effective policy will be framed in this regard. He said some forces wanted to affect Pakistan-China relations.

The Committee directed that Foreign Affairs ministry may timely clear the misconceptions to avoid embarrassment among the public so that people could know about the ground realities of international issues.

The Committee directed that Foreign Affairs ministry may develop proper liaison with ministry of Commerce to enhance Pakistani exports as it had been observed that Pakistani Basmati Rice was being sold on Indian tag in international markets.

The Committee further directed that Pakistani Ambassadors may also evaluate the performance of commercial attachés in collaboration with ministry of Commerce to achieve the targets set by the government.

The Committee directed that Foreign Affairs ministry may take stringent measures for early release of 2107 Pakistani prisoners detained in Saudi Jails as promised by Saudi Crown Prince and provide them full assistance to remove procedural complications.