Indian snowshoers will get visas for next week

Paul Smith’s College snowshoe racers stand with their friends from India’s Kashmir region just before the World Championship race in Vezza d’Oglio, Italy, in February 2016. From left are Umer Nabi, Tyler Dezago, Rob Calamia, Tanveer Husain and Matty “Ice” Leichty. (Photo provided — Davide Ripamonti)

SARANAC LAKE — Two Indian snowshoers will be able to travel here next week to compete in the World Snowshoe Championships.

U.S. immigration officials reportedly approved visas for Abid Khan and Tanveer Hussain today, just over two weeks after they initially rejected their visa applications due to a lack of “strong ties” to their home country.

Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said this morning that he received a Facebook message from Khan saying visas for he and Hussain will be issued Wednesday. They plan to fly to the U.S. the next day so they can be in Saranac Lake for the Snowshoe Championships that weekend.

“We’re just elated they’ll be able come,” Rabideau said, crediting New York Sen. Charles Schumer and his staff for their help. “I think all three of our federal representatives were on this, but the two I heard back from where the two senators (Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand). Schumer’s office was in daily contact with me, Abid and Tanveer and the New Delhi consulate. They really pushed this.”

Khan and Hussain are among nearly 300 athletes from the U.S., Canada and other countries who have registered for the championships. On Jan. 30, they flew to New Delhi from their homes in the Srinagar District, located in India’s mountainous northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, to file the necessary visa documents and submit to an interview at the U.S. Embassy.

But embassy officials denied Khan and Hussain visas. At the time, Khan said they were told the decision was based on “current policy,” which they and others took to mean the travel ban on seven Muslim majority nations President Donald Trump issued Jan. 27. India is not on the list but Khan and Hussain are from a region where Muslims make up 90 percent of the population.

“We are devastated with this as we had (a) dream to see ourselves taking part in USA Saranac Lake championship,” Khan told the Enterprise via Facebook.

However, U.S. officials have reportedly said the denial had no connection to Trump’s executive order. That’s according to Vikas Swarup, a spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, who spoke to the Indian Express news service earlier this month.

“The U.S. Embassy in Delhi has categorically denied that it has any linkage to the executive order,” he said. “We have also been told officially that it was a standard adjudication based on the merits of the case.”

At the request of Rabideau, Schumer’s office contacted the embassy to seek an explanation for the visa denial. Schumer’s office said Hussain and Khan were determined to be ineligible for visas “due to a failure to demonstrate strong ties … to assure their departure after a limited stay in the United States.”

Rabideau said he thought the men had documented strong ties to India. They both have full-time jobs. Khan is married, owns property and is building a house. Hussain is a championship athlete in Jammu and Kashmir. Neither have criminal records. Both had traveled to the Snowshoe Championships in Italy last year and returned home.

After the mayor reached out to the village’s representatives in Washington, however, the men were told they could re-apply for visas. They traveled to New Delhi again today for another round of interviews, and that’s when they reportedly learned their visas would be issued.

The World Snowshoe Championships on Feb. 25 will feature 5- and 10-kilometer races on a course that runs from the Harrietstown Town Hall to Dewey Mountain Recreation Center and back. There’s a separate Shoe-Be-Do race where families, couples and individuals can walk the race course without the clock running. Kids can do the Shoe-Be-Do free of charge.

The event’s festivities kick off with a Parade of Nations at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24. The parade will run from the Post Office on Broadway to the Harrietstown Town Hall, where an opening ceremony is planned.

Rabideau said he thinks Khan and Hussain will get a warm welcome.

“They’ll probably come in like rock stars,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll get a very hospitable reception here in Saranac Lake.”