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Homeland Security

30 July 2003

State Department Announces New Visa Procedures

Interviews now required for more visa applicants

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The U.S. State Department has announced new procedures to be followed in processing of applications for a nonimmigrant visa for travel to the United States. A Bureau of Consular Affairs official told a Washington briefing July 30 that the new procedures, effective August 1, are aimed at increasing the security of the United States and creating greater uniformity in the processing of visas at U.S. consulates worldwide.

The visa application process requires that the applicant appear before a consular officer for a personal interview, though some waivers of the interview had been previously allowed. The State Department has revised the categories of applicants who may be eligible for these waivers. In practice the new requirements will mean that more visa applicants will need to schedule interviews, and the visa approval process could take more time than in the past.

"Since September 11, 2001, we've engaged in an ongoing review of the visa process as it relates to the security of our nation," said Stephen A. "Tony" Edson from the Bureau of Consular Affairs. "In this process we have greatly increased the rate of personal interviews. As a result, many of our posts overseas and our consular offices are already handling an interview workload quite similar to what will be required under the new regulation."

The State Department has added 39 new consular officers to handle the increased workload and will plan to add another 80 in the next year, Edson said.

Under the new regulations, Edson said waivers of the personal interview may be considered for the following categories of applicants: those under 16 or over 60 years of age, employees or officials of foreign governments, persons who have previously applied for a visa and have not violated their nonimmigrant status, and persons for whom national interests warrant consideration of a waiver.

Edson acknowledged that the new procedures "may cause some delays," but he said the State Department remains committed to maintaining a timely process and does not intend to impede the process for "travelers whose presence we value."

Edson also emphasized the consular officers will be responsive to the needs of students coming into the United States for academic programs or participation in time-sensitive programs.

The new regulations only affect travelers who are currently required to obtain a visa to enter the United States. Twenty-seven nations are identified as "visa waiver nations" under a separate provision in U.S. law. Citizens from these nations, Western Europeans and Japanese among them, are not required to obtain visas because their countries have met a number of specified criteria which make these travelers unlikely candidates to attempt illegal immigration into the United States.

Edson also emphasized that an approved visa does not ensure that a visitor will gain admission to the country at a U.S. port of entry. An approved visa allows only the attempt to enter. The Department of Homeland Security oversees the actual of admission of travelers as they set foot on U.S. soil. Even if a traveler is carrying an approved visa, an immigration officer may deny permission to enter if security concerns are at stake, Edson said.

Briefing foreign journalists in Washington and others participating via video link from New York and Los Angeles, the consular official said the new procedures change nothing in the application process or in the forms a would-be traveler must complete.

The increased scrutiny focused on nonimmigrant visa applications since the 2001 terrorist attacks has resulted in a slight overall increase in the number of visa denials, consular officials explained. But the more significant change is in the overall number of applications processed. That has declined from 10 million applications in the fiscal year that ended weeks after the September 11 attacks to 8 million applications in the following fiscal year. The officials said it is impossible to determine whether that decline is due to a harsher global economy, a fear of further terrorism, or changes in U.S. visa approval policies.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

This page printed from: http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2003&m=July&x=20030730182437retropc0.1401178&t=usinfo/wf-latest.html

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