An Assistant Editor with an English daily is the latest victim

“I can't go to the U.S., my name is Haq,” says his blog. Zia Haq, an Assistant Editor with Hindustan Times, was part of a seven-member journalist delegation invited to participate in a week-long technology and farm show that began on August 28 at Iowa in the United States.

However, with the U.S. embassy inexplicably suspending the processing of his visa, Mr. Haq had to drop out of the tour at the last minute. He feels singled out because, as he says in his blog, “all other journalists in the delegation were promptly granted visas…What prompted this? My religion? My faith? My views? [But] I have never been a consistent, rabid or vocal opponent of America...” The other journalists were able to reach the U.S. for the show.

Was Mr. Haq a victim of religious profiling as he appears to suggest in his blog? The bias is difficult to establish given the litany of general complaints relating to delayed and denied U.S. visas. Yet, Mr. Haq was picked out from a group, which fact does not change even if he should get a visa in the coming days. It is this aspect that discomfits Muslim intellectuals who point to a string of similar cases.

In September 2008, for instance, U.S. visa authorities delayed processing the application of Haider Hussain, Editor of Assam's largest daily, Asomiya Pratidin. The astonishing thing about this case is that Mr. Hussain was part of the media delegation accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the U.S. and France.

Like Mr. Haq, he was the only one from the group picked out for additional background checks.

In the summer of 2009, a Muslim engineer working with a North-Eastern hydro-power PSU was the only one of a delegation of engineers on a visit to the Hoover Dam who did not get a U.S. visa. The engineer was allowed to join his team after a strong representation from the delegation.

More recently, in June this year, Faiyaz Khudsar, a wildlife biologist with 15 years experience in wildlife conservation and working with Delhi University, shot off a letter to U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer, saying he alone was denied a visa from a group of 11 people selected from India for a training programme on tiger conservation at the Smithsonian facilities in Virginia. As he told CNN-IBN: “Probably, it is my name or religion — I do not know. It was an important visit.”

The subject of U.S. visas for Muslims came up at a February 2010 meeting between Delhi's Muslim intelligentsia and U.S. Special Representative for Muslim countries, Farah Pandith. The gathering told her plainly that the Obama administration had fallen short of expectations on granting visas to Indian Muslims. Ghulam Nabi Qazi, Vice-Chancellor of the Jamia Hamdard University, said that as a scientist he would only believe the Obama administration if there was evidence of change on the ground. He said while he did not want to make a fuss, he had himself been denied a U.S visa while working as a director with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The tour which Mr. Haq missed out was jointly organised by Crop Life International, Crop Life Asia and the multi-national Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises — Special Interest Group on Agriculture Biotechnology (ABLE-SIGAB). The invitation was sent out to the newspaper offices by ABLE-SIGAB, whose members include Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Devgen, Dow, and DuPont. Mr. Haq, who has visited many countries, including Israel, was nominated by his paper to attend the show.

A written sheet given to Mr. Haq said his visa application had been suspended for further administrative processing under Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The U.S. embassy does not provide additional details or reveal the case status in cases with a 221(g) notation. “This processing is mandatory and cannot be expedited,” says the embassy website.