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Burkinabes Debate 'American Dream' with New Five-Year Visa


A change in U.S. visa policy is giving citizens in the West African nation of Burkina Faso a chance to make more frequent trips to the United States. Businessmen and others who travel often to the United States can now apply for multiple-entry visas good for five years. Phuong Tran talked to Burkinabes who are eager for a visa to find out if the American dream really exists. She has this report from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar, with additional reporting from Zoumana Wonogo in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou.

Announcing the visa policy change earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso Jeanine Jackson said the visa is one way to strengthen business and trade relations between the countries.

"I think it is a very, very good encouraging sign of growing bilateral cooperation," she said.

For Justin Bayili of the Export Promotion Center in Ouagadougou, he says this visa puts Burkinabe businesses one step closer to the American market.

"The market now is open. African market, Burkinabe market is open," he said. "The world market is open. What we have to do now is [figure out] how can we work to comply with the requirements of these markets."

Changes in American trade policy over the past few years have allowed Burkina Faso and other Sub-Saharan African countries to export certain items, such as clothing, to the United States without paying taxes. But only if they follow rules, like fighting corruption and making sure businesses operate freely.

Pierre Kafando is a businessman waiting on the new visa. He says he wants to try out a new clothing idea in the United States. He says it takes too long to get ahead in Burkina Faso.

Kafando says it takes less time to make dreams come true in the United States. He says one can stay in Burkina Faso for a decade and not do as much as someone who is in the United States for only three to four years.

But others say they know this American fast track to success comes with a price.

Abdoulaye Gardema is learning through his brother who does business in the United States.

"In the U.S, there is no time to waste, and everything is very fast, that there is no time to joke. He used to be here and visit many people during the weekend, but right now he has to work very, very, very hard," said Gardema.

But for others, the visa is not all about business.

For Frederic Ilboudo, the visa is a way to see if there really is such a thing as the American dream. He is eager to visit a brother in the United States to find out.

"He is doing good things there," he said. "He built his house, he bought a good car, So why not me? I would like to go."

As the new visa goes into effect, Burkinabe cotton businesses continue to blame the United States for its problems, saying U.S. subsidies for its farmers hurt Burkinabe cotton producers, and drive down cotton prices.

U.S. trade representatives have pointed to tax-free imports and multiple-entry visas as examples of how poor countries are given a fair chance to do business in the United States.

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