BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz officials and residents have praised the US government's recent announcement of a new immigration policy toward Kyrgyzstan.
US President Joe Biden on January 20 signed an executive order ending an almost year-long suspension of immigration visas and Diversity Immigrant Visas (from the "green card lottery") to Kyrgyz citizens, the US Embassy in Bishkek said in a statement.
Kyrgyzstan was likely added to the list of restricted countries because it was not issuing biometric passports, and because illegal migration and passport forgery had surged in Kyrgyzstan, analysts say.
"We commend the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic for the significant travel-related security improvements they have made over the past 12 months," the embassy said. "Kyrgyz electronic passports containing biometric identification chips have been developed and are in the final stages of preparation."
The embassy also praised Kyrgyzstan's improved co-operation with INTERPOL, including increasing information-sharing on crime and terrorism.
"New Kyrgyz electronic passports and closer law enforcement co-operation will make us all safer," it said.
"The United States remains committed to strengthening our bilateral relationship to enhance the security, sovereignty, and prosperity of the Kyrgyz people," the statement said.
Kyrgyz officials and political activists expressed hope for further co-operation and improved Kyrgyz-US relations in the wake of the policy change.
The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry on January 21 hailed Biden's decision to lift visa restrictions against Kyrgyz citizens and noted that government agencies had taken all the necessary steps to achieve this goal, particularly the development of biometric passports.
"The Kyrgyz side welcomes the decision of [the] President of the United States of America to intensify co-operation on multilateral platforms on the issues such as the fight against drug trafficking and organised crime, strengthening measures to combat coronavirus infection, and promoting universal values," it said in an English-language statement.
Kyrgyz civil society is responding with optimism to the cancellation of the restrictions on entry to the United States, said Osmon Kangeldiyev of Bishkek, an activist in the Reform political party.
"We are expecting Kyrgyz-US relations to quickly change for the better, and we expect co-operation to strengthen between our countries in many areas," he said.
"Generally speaking, we have high hopes for President Biden, who, as we can see, will take a friendly approach in his policy toward our country."
Gratitude and relief
Judging by comments on social networks, ordinary citizens are equally pleased with the US government's decision.
"The new US President, Joe Biden, has lifted visa restrictions on Kyrgyzstan! We're no longer blacklisted!" Semetey Amanbekov, editor in chief of Elgezit.kg, wrote on Facebook, punctuating his post with two smiling emojis.
Kadyr Toktogulov, a former Kyrgyz presidential spokesman and former ambassador to the United States, took to Twitter to express his gratitude, writing in English: "Thank you @potus @JoeBiden."
"A big sigh of relief for so many people," Osh native Meder Kamalov, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who now lives in Vienna, Austria, tweeted in English in response to Toktogulov.
About 15,000 Kyrgyz citizens were living legally in the United States, according to Kyrgyz government data for 2018.
"The Kyrgyz most often come here on educational programmes and enrol in universities," said Gulmira Orozova, a Philadelphia resident who is married to a US citizen. "Many university students from Kyrgyzstan do very well and get jobs in large corporations."
For example, Tilek Mamutov, a computer programmer from Bishkek, worked for more than a decade at Google, where he helped make Kyrgyz available on Google Translate, said Orozova.
"Many Kyrgyz who live here also work as ... translators and interpreters, restaurant wait staff and van drivers," she said. "They earn a good living and provide financial support for their relatives back home."
Remittance payments from the United States to Kyrgyzstan amounted to more than $38 million (3.2 billion KGS) in 2016 and almost $22 million (1.9 billion KGS) for the first 11 months of 2017, according to the latest Kyrgyz government statistics.