When the African Global Economic and Development Summit kicked off in Los Angeles on March 16, some very important voices were absent: No one from Africa attended the annual three-day conference. Mary Flowers, CEO of the Global Green Development Group and organizer of the conference, told The Guardian that visa applications for attendees from at least a dozen African nations were rejected. Visa challenges are nothing new for the event — Flowers said that roughly 40 percent of participants have been denied entry to the United States in the past — but this year’s 100-percent denial rate was unprecedented.
“I don’t know if it’s Trump or if it’s the fact that the embassies that have been discriminating for a long time see this as an opportunity, because of talk of the travel ban, to blatantly reject everyone,” Flowers said in the interview. “These trade links create jobs for both America and Africa. It’s unbelievable what’s going on.”
In a normal year, the summit welcomes between 150 and 200 attendees, but the overwhelming number of rejections shrunk attendance to fewer than 75 people. The summit’s objective is to match U.S. investors with African entrepreneurs in need of financial support. Without any representatives from Africa, though, accomplishing that goal seems very challenging. ““In order to have fruitful exchanges and business growth for both domestic business and foreign partners, we must let people meet and discuss,” Michelle Crowley, senior director of global development at PCMA, said. “The current travel climate is creating big challenges, and countries with less strict visa policies may appeal to organizations that are bringing people together from across the globe.”
Flowers isn’t the only organizer feeling the negative effects of visa issues. In the new Meetings Market Survey from Convene, 18 percent of respondents reported that one or more of their attendees faced a challenge securing a visa in 2016. The entire application process appears to be getting increasingly cumbersome — 58 percent of respondents indicated that it was more difficult to obtain a visa in 2016 versus 2015.
Have your attendees from outside the United States faced higher hurdles in applying for visas? How is your organization dealing with entry issues? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts.