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Homeland Security

SLUG: 8-336 FOCUS New U-S Visa Requirements.rtf




TITLE=New U-S Visa Requirements

BYLINE= Jaroslaw Anders



EDITOR=Ed Warner


INTRO: Today in Focus new security measures at American airports. Since January 5 most visa-carrying foreigners arriving in America are fingerprinted and photographed as part of a homeland security program. Many specialists praise these new "biometric" measures as efficient and necessary. But some analysts warn against possible abuses. The program has also stirred some controversy abroad. VOA's Jaroslaw Anders looks at the issue in this edition of Focus. From Washington, here is Bob Doughty.

TEXT: It only takes a few seconds. You put your finger on an electronic scanner, you pose in front of a digital camera, and presto. Welcome to the United States. Unless, of course, you are on a wanted list or your scan does not match data attached to your visa application. Exempt from this procedure are citizens of 27 countries under the Visa Waver Program, who do not need to apply for short-term American visas. While announcing the new biometric measures Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security, said he hoped most visitors would find them useful, simple and fair.


I believe that this system that we are implementing will be found by our foreign guests to be something that is inoffensive, that is easy, that is quick, but that will give them the confidence that our transportation system will be safe, and that as they enter the United States, they will not be entering with other people that might pose a danger. ///END ACT//

That was, in fact, the opinion of many foreign visitors who recently arrived at Dulles International Airport near Washington.


It's better because it's safer and it's not long at all. You just put your finger on a little screen, and you pass.. No, I don't mind, if it makes us safer. I don't object to it at all. ///END ACT///

But some travelers worry that biometric information gathered by U-S consular and immigration authorities may get into the wrong hands. A visitor from Great Britain spoke to the Voice of America on the condition of anonymity:


I'll tell you what concerns me most about it. It's the fact that I don't know who's going to have access to that information. Under the U-S Freedom of Information Act it seems that a lot of people will have access to it. And it worries me about identity theft, which in some ways kind of plays into the terrorists' hands.///END ACT///

Tom Ridge, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, declared that only authorized officials would have access to the information on a strictly "need-to-know" basis.

///OPT/// Janice Jacobs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, says she knows a lot of people may have concerns about what happens to the biometric data provided by visitors. But she assures it will be used for identification and screening purposes only.


It's simply for us to be able to confirm the identity of people who are applying for visas and for the Department of Homeland Security also to be able to identify the people who are coming into the United States.///END ACT/// ///END OPT///

But some analysts worry that the very ability of the government to gather and process such amounts of data may lead to abuse.


Are they just looking, or are they looking and keeping information. ///END ACT//

Clyde Wayne Crews, Director of Technology Policy at the Cato Institute in Washington, says there is nothing wrong with using modern technology to check a visitor's identity. But in his view it should never be used to create permanent records on people who are not under a court-ordered investigation.


If they put up their fingerprint or they pause before a face scanner or retina scanner and there is no match, no record should be created on those individuals. If the program is run like that, you can make a case for it. But the question is can you trust the government to discard that information on individual citizens? ///END ACT///

Analysts agree that increased security must be at least partly responsible for the fact that since September 11, 2001 there has not been a single terrorist attack on U-S territory. But Mr. Crews of the Cato Institute suggests that may be more a result of low-tech improvements and psychological factors then of biometric identity checks.


If you just look at the case of airplanes, it is strengthening of the cockpit doors and the knowledge on the part of the terrorist that if he does make a move toward that cockpit door, he is going to be jumped by passengers and wrestled to the floor. ///END ACT///

Despite the new caution in dealing with foreign visitors U-S officials stress they want America to remain an open and welcoming society. President Bush said: "America is not a fortress. We never want to be a fortress." Janice Jacobs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, adds that America is not abandoning its "open doors" policy.


We don't want to become a gated society. We welcome legitimate travelers and visitors here and we want to do our best when we're processing visas to identify the people who might be high risk, who might be coming here to do us harm, but to let the others get their visas as quickly as possible. ///END ACT//

Deborah Meyers is an analyst at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, which studies immigration policies and the movement of people worldwide. She points out that in order to project that "open" image the U-S government must show it tries not only to protect American borders but also to facilitate the visa process for law-abiding foreigners. Most of all, it needs to demonstrate enhanced border checks are part of a far-reaching security campaign.


These measures can contribute to American security but they also need to be balanced with measures that welcome those who come to the United States. And I think the bottom line is that we cannot fight terrorism through anti-immigration measures alone. These measures need to be part of a more comprehensive approach to anti-terrorist efforts that would involve overseas intelligence work and information sharing within our own government. ///END ACT///

Many European visitors compare scrupulous U-S border identity checks with the apparent lack of similar safeguards within the European Union. They point out that although some Western European countries are also targets of terrorist attacks, they seem much less concerned about international traffic. But Deborah Meyers says such comparisons can be misleading.


I think it is important to recognize there are significant differences in European societies compared to American society. Many European countries do requite a national identity card. This is not the case in the United States. So one can actually argue that they are already more controlled in Europe. ///END ACT///

Ms. Meyers adds that in Europe, as in America, most of the screening of travelers is done behind the scenes, through information sharing among domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies.

Many travelers may feel uneasy about all that scrutiny. Some nations find it offensive and have threatened retaliation. Americans traveling to Brazil are now subject to the same procedures as Brazilians traveling to the United States. The Greeks are upset they are being fingerprinted despite being members of both NATO and the European Union. Some new U-S allies in Central and Eastern Europe believe they should be exempt from visa requirements altogether. But Deborah Meyers says tight immigration controls are simply a feature of modern life.


Unfortunately, this is one of the realities of an increasingly globalized world. All people traveling worldwide, Americans and others, are increasingly having to subject themselves to additional security measures since a globalized, interconnected world poses an advantage to terrorists as well as to facilitation of travel. ///END ACT///

Last year about 6 million people applied for American visas worldwide. Analysts agree that U-S consular and immigration authorities face a daunting and sensitive task in helping the many that deserve America's hospitality and stopping the few that intend to break her laws or threaten her security. This FOCUS was written by Jaroslaw Anders with contributions from Valer Gergely and Ola Michalska. From Washington I'm Bob Doughty.

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