A Derry man who claims to have visited the U.S.A. more than 25 times could be forced to cancel a holiday of a lifetime after his visa application was declined.
Mr. Robert Clarke (59), holds an Irish passport and his application for a visa was denied last week.
Mr. Clarke is due to travel to Florida this Thursday with his friend Ellen Deery and three other family members.
“I don’t have a criminal record. I have never been in trouble with the police, therefore, I can’t understand why this is happening.
“We’ve spent close to £15k on this holiday and if I don’t get my visa on time, we will have to cancel.”
Mr. Clarke’s friend Ellen Deery criticised the U.S.A.’s Department for Homeland Security for the way in which they have dealt with the issue.
“There are people walking around this town who shot and blew this country to pieces during the ‘Troubles.’
“These people have no problem getting in, but then a man like Robert, a hard working man who has never been in trouble, has his visa application rejected for no reason. The fact the authorities didn’t give us a reason just proves how much of a joke it is - surely we should be allowed to have our say.
“The whole situation makes me sick and it doesn’t even bear thinking about that we might lose the entire £15k,” claimed Ms. Deery.
Ms. Deery said the hardest part for her was having to tell her two years-old grand-daughter that they may not be going to Florida after all.
“All Ruby has talked about is Florida, Florida, Florida - it will break her wee heart if we are not able to go.
In a desperate bid to get a visa in time, Mr. Clarke contacted SDLP party leader and MLA for Foyle, Colum Eastwood.
Mr. Eastwood attempted to intervene on Mr. Clarke’s behalf but was not successful.
“Mr. Clarke’s Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) application was refused on Wednesday and he came to the SDLP for help,” confirmed Mr. Eastwood.
“We contacted the U.S. Consulate in Belfast to understand what options were available to him. We were informed that he could apply for a visa and that an emergency appointment could be scheduled to allow him to travel this week.
“We completed the online application on behalf of Mr. Clarke and requested the emergency appointment.
“However, the emergency appointment was refused. We then contacted the US Consulate to understand the reason for refusal. It transpires that the Department of Homeland Security decided that additional security screening was required before a visa could be issued and that the additional checks could not feasibly be conducted before the travel date.”
Mr. Eastwood confirmed that he had endeavoured to get the matter resolved by contacting the Department for Foreign Affairs in Dublin.
“We spoke at length with the Consulate but it was apparent that they could not influence the Department of Homeland Security’s decision. As Mr Clarke is an Irish citizen we also spoke to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, but they are unable to intervene in matters relating to American visa processes.
“My heart goes out to Mr Clarke and his travel companions.
“They had planned a dream holiday and it will now have to be cancelled.”