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Homeland Security









Following the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. State Department instituted lengthy background checks for international students and visitors wishing to enter the country. The new regulations have led to a backlog for approving visas and complaints from many applicants. Janice Jacobs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, discusses the visa process.


And now joining us is Janice Jacobs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, to discuss this visa process.

Should students or visitors to the United States kind of feel that they're going to have to submit to tougher regulations now in this post-9/11 world?


I think, in general, that we have tightened up on our visa procedures after September 11th -- there's no question about that. But certainly we still welcome students. In fact, a very small percentage of the people who apply for student visas are subject to the new additional checks that we're doing after 9/11. And so I certainly would encourage people to still apply. It is true that we do have new requirements in effect and that there have been some delays in processing those. But in the end I think most people do get their visas and are still coming.

Certainly, as we implement these new procedures, we're aware of the role that we play in protecting our borders, but continuing to have open doors as far as welcoming students and other people coming here for legitimate reasons.


So it's a balance as you see it.

Could you give us a little more detail on what the new requirements are?


Well, there are additional requirements for certain students coming. Also there is more interest now in technology transfer issues. And so, depending on the field of study, we might be looking closer at that. We have instituted some other procedures. We are interviewing more people, and so perhaps people have to wait a little bit longer to actually get into the embassy to apply for the visa.

But the one thing that we have done in implementing these new procedures is to give priority to students. In other words, as we interview new people, or more people, we've asked the embassies overseas to give priority to students when they try to make their applications.


In the interviews, what kinds of questions are being asked? Obviously it would probably change from person to person, but a sense of what you're looking for.


Basically what the officers are looking for when they interview students is whether they qualify under existing immigration laws. One of the main things that they look at is will the person return to the home country after the course of studies in the U.S. And then they look at other issues. Names are run through lookout systems. If there is a problem there, then the cases have to be referred back to Washington for further review. But for the most part nothing has really changed as far as what we're looking for. We want to make sure that it's a legitimate course of study, they have the funds available to pay for the studies, and that at the end of the studies they intend to go back to their home country.


How do you distinguish? Are there different requirements for students versus people who simply want to visit and be tourists?


Well, not really. Everyone has to sort of overcome that hurdle that they plan to leave the United States after a temporary stay. And that applies to tourists as well as to students. Every application is judged on its individual merits. So it really depends on the circumstances of the case.


Thematically, from a big picture, if you can provide it for us, this is a delicate balance, and there is some criticism in some quarters about the policy; would you talk about that a little, the fine line there between, as one of our guests in that previous piece said, is this really the land of America? I think those were something like his specific words. But give us a sense of how you see that tough, tough balance.


Well, it is. It's a very tough balance to strike. And I think that before September 11th there was a lot of emphasis on trying to bring people in and get through that process as quickly as possible. The truth is I think that, over the last 10 years, we didn't have perhaps the amount of resources that we needed in the field to handle the growing visa demands. And there were a lot of initiatives put in place that really sort of helped us get through the number of applications that we had quickly.

After September 11th, we realized that we really needed to be taking a closer look at the people coming here, at the applications. And that's one of the reasons that we're doing more interviews. But all along I think we have always been aware of all of the different interests involved in having people come here. Security, yes, is our top priority after September 11th, but we are still very interested in international exchange and the benefits that accrue to the United States in having people come here.


Janice Jacobs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, here to talk about this new program. We appreciate your comments. Thanks for being with us.


Thank you.


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