AN elderly man who has spent two decades helping members of the Kurdish community in Leeds fears he may not be allowed into America to see his desperately ill sister before she dies.
Eighty-two year old Tony Day was “devastated” when his application for a visa waiver to visit the States was turned down, due to his visits to his “extended family” in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq.
He had booked tickets to see his sister Christine Hutchinson, 78, in California, next month, facing the sad realisation it could be the last time they met due to her ongoing battle with pneumonia.
UK citizens can apply online to travel to America without a visa - but Mr Day, from Burmantofts, was shocked when his Electric System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) application was turned down after he declared a three-month trip to Massif in Iraqi Kurdistan in summer 2016.
He now faces an anxious wait before he travels to London next week for a meeting at the US Embassy where he will apply for a full visa.
“This is a massive thing for me. If I could never see her again, I don’t know what I’d do,” he said. “I understand that they need to have measures in place to stop terrorism but I feel like I have been caught in the net.”
He said the stress of being turned down for the automatic visa has “put 20 years” on him.
Mr Day is ineligible for a visa waiver due to frequent trips to the Middle East made since 1999, when he became firm friends with a Kurdish man, Aziz Shirwani when he started working in a restaurant he was managing.
Mr Shirwani and his wife Narmen became “like family” to Mr Day, as he helped them settle into life in the UK. He soon began helping wider members of the Kurdish community in Leeds as an “almost unofficial translator”.
However, trips to see the Shirwani’s relatives in Kurdistan fall foul of restrictions implemented by the US Government in December 2015 that meant people who would previously have been eligible for a visa waiver would now be exempt if they had visited seven Middle Eastern and African countries after March 2011 - including Iraq. The seven countries are the same as those listed in President Trump’s controversial travel ban, but the exemption was implemented before he was elected.
He fears he could be rejected for a visa - meaning he would not see his sister again, and lose hundreds of pounds he has spent on flights.
“My sister is telling me to think positive, and is praying for me, but I have been panic stricken,” he said. “This last week, the worry has put 20 years on me, and I am a capable man. Somebody else my age could not cope with this.”
A spokesman for the US Embassy told the YEP that ineligibility for the waiver “in no way precludes” him from visiting the States.