Travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries in Africa would be lifted by the end of the year, even if President Obama leaves office, the State Department said Thursday.
In a formal announcement, the State Department said it would place measures on 22 countries in Africa that were already in place on 12 countries in Europe. The limitations were first ordered by former President George W. Bush in 2007, and the last of them are scheduled to end by Dec. 31, 2014.
“Despite recent terrorist attacks in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Kenya, these restrictions will provide additional support to the global effort to combat terrorism, protect U.S. national security, and enhance U.S. foreign policy,” said Margaret A. Vogt, acting assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of African Affairs.
All of the countries in the last group of restrictive measures were removed in 2009, when U.S. relations with North Korea improved.
The full list of restrictions is:
Rwanda, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Comoros, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zanzibar, Central African Republic, Swaziland, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Niger, Somalia, Mauritania, Liberia, Guinea, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritania, Seychelles, and Mauritius
Belgium, Macedonia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosova, Macedonia, and Romania.
“We will continue to monitor developments as we look for ways to strengthen U.S. foreign policy and security cooperation,” Vogt said.
The restrictions were written to focus on threats to U.S. nationals from groups seeking safe haven in certain countries. But many of the countries on the list are still involved in fighting Al Qaeda in the region, including Djibouti, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and a portion of Egypt.
“National security requires a leadership position in countering Al Qaeda and related violent extremist organizations. We assess that these measures are consistent with U.S. national security priorities,” Vogt said.
The U.S. priority lists have historically included popular tourist destinations.
“We have assured those countries that may be subject to a renewed finding that they will not be subject to a finding,” Vogt said.
Some of the measures, like the tightened background checks for non-immigrant workers from the affected countries, already existed before the expanded restrictions were put in place.
The restrictions raise questions about what happens to travel and trade if U.S. relations with countries in Africa improve. Many existing restrictions on trade with certain countries and non-immigrant visas were lifted early on in President Obama’s first term when relations between the United States and some African countries improved.
In recent years, many countries that once ranked as high as 25 on the U.S. official list have since been dropped altogether.
Still, leaders in some countries that fell on the U.S. non-immigrant visa list remain under pressure to make changes to ease visa requirements for Americans. Some have responded, such as Tajikistan, which recently lifted its ban on American diplomats and students.
For countries such as Somalia and Nigeria, where there is no longer an active Al Qaeda presence, the benefits of a relaxed visa policy outweigh the risks of expanded measures, diplomatic officials say. But in countries such as Niger and Eritrea, where the movement of Americans for work or other purposes remains restricted, the benefits are more limited.
Vogt said the department continues to prioritize the United States’ relationship with countries in Africa. She said the State Department could lift the controls if the policy had “international benefits” but “it will always be an option that is under consideration.”