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Results 1 to 5 of 5

Thread: More seek US visas as backlogs are tackled

  1. #1
    Source: FT.com
    By Edward Alden in Washington

    Visa applications to the US have risen by more than 10 per cent this year, ending two years of sharp decline following the September 11 attacks. US officials said on Thursday they had resolved many of the processing delays that were discouraging travel to the US.


    "I honestly believe we have turned a corner and that we are doing better," Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary for visa services in the State Department, told a congressional committee.

    Universities, the travel industry and business groups have criticised the US government over the decline in travel to the US that coincided with tough new border security measures adopted since 2001. But for several months, Washington has been engaged in an extensive effort to try to eliminate many of the backlogs that have drawn criticism.

    In particular, Ms Jacobs said the State Department, which handles visa applications, had finally begun transmitting security clearance requests to Washington electronically, replacing a decades-old system of paper cables.

    Many of the worst delays in visa applications - often six months or more - have involved a small percentage of applicants deemed high-risk, whose visas must be approved by US security agencies. But Ms Jacobs said that 98 per cent of those cases were now resolved within 30 days. "That's a huge improvement over where we were last year, and even just six months ago," she said.

    The delays in visa processing have been an international black eye for the US, which had long had among the world's most open borders. US officials have struggled to find a balance between new security measures, designed to keep terrorists out of the country, and efficient handling of millions of legitimate visa applicants.

    Business and university groups agree that some improvements have been made in recent months, and say their concerns are being taken far more seriously by Washington. But they say the numbers are still discouraging.

    While the State Department reports that overall student visa applications are up by nearly 10 per cent this year, the American Association of Universities says that graduate school applications for this year fell by nearly one third from last year, as talented foreign students have flocked to universities in the UK, Canada and Australia. "It's clear that, particularly at the graduate level, there's been a significant decline in applications from overseas, and we're very concerned about that," said Barry Toiv, spokesman for the AAU.

    The US Chamber of Commerce also said that delays for ordinary visa applications were a growing concern because of a requirement instituted in 2002 that all visa applicants must undergo personal interviews at US embassies.

    The State Department has recently begun posting on its website the waiting time for interviews at its 211 embassies and consulates; many of those are more than 20 days, and some as long as 100 days. The chamber has called for Washington to reassess the policy of blanket interviews, saying it is not an effective security-screening tool.

  2. #2
    Source: FT.com
    By Edward Alden in Washington

    Visa applications to the US have risen by more than 10 per cent this year, ending two years of sharp decline following the September 11 attacks. US officials said on Thursday they had resolved many of the processing delays that were discouraging travel to the US.


    "I honestly believe we have turned a corner and that we are doing better," Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary for visa services in the State Department, told a congressional committee.

    Universities, the travel industry and business groups have criticised the US government over the decline in travel to the US that coincided with tough new border security measures adopted since 2001. But for several months, Washington has been engaged in an extensive effort to try to eliminate many of the backlogs that have drawn criticism.

    In particular, Ms Jacobs said the State Department, which handles visa applications, had finally begun transmitting security clearance requests to Washington electronically, replacing a decades-old system of paper cables.

    Many of the worst delays in visa applications - often six months or more - have involved a small percentage of applicants deemed high-risk, whose visas must be approved by US security agencies. But Ms Jacobs said that 98 per cent of those cases were now resolved within 30 days. "That's a huge improvement over where we were last year, and even just six months ago," she said.

    The delays in visa processing have been an international black eye for the US, which had long had among the world's most open borders. US officials have struggled to find a balance between new security measures, designed to keep terrorists out of the country, and efficient handling of millions of legitimate visa applicants.

    Business and university groups agree that some improvements have been made in recent months, and say their concerns are being taken far more seriously by Washington. But they say the numbers are still discouraging.

    While the State Department reports that overall student visa applications are up by nearly 10 per cent this year, the American Association of Universities says that graduate school applications for this year fell by nearly one third from last year, as talented foreign students have flocked to universities in the UK, Canada and Australia. "It's clear that, particularly at the graduate level, there's been a significant decline in applications from overseas, and we're very concerned about that," said Barry Toiv, spokesman for the AAU.

    The US Chamber of Commerce also said that delays for ordinary visa applications were a growing concern because of a requirement instituted in 2002 that all visa applicants must undergo personal interviews at US embassies.

    The State Department has recently begun posting on its website the waiting time for interviews at its 211 embassies and consulates; many of those are more than 20 days, and some as long as 100 days. The chamber has called for Washington to reassess the policy of blanket interviews, saying it is not an effective security-screening tool.

  3. #3
    U.S. Officers Unable to Vet Visa-Seeking Saudis

    Source: Reuters

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - According to a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security report, inadequate financing and training have left many department officers in Saudi Arabia ill-prepared to enforce a program intended to stop Saudi Arabia terror suspects from receiving U.S. visas, the New York Times reported on Friday.

    The report, released on Thursday, said nine of the 10 officers assigned to screen visa applications in Saudi Arabia did not speak or read Arabic, and many were unfamiliar with how to conduct criminal investigations, the newspaper said.

    It also said the program had no formal fiscal 2004 budget, and relied on temporary officers because no money was provided to cover the cost of transferring employees to Saudi Arabia.

    The newspaper said about $10 million in fiscal 2005 had been requested for the program, which the department planned to expand soon to five other countries. The program was mandated by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, and intended to operated in all visa-issuing countries.

    Clark Kent Ervin, who commissioned the report and is the department's inspector general, said the program will continue to struggle if kinks can't be worked out, the paper said.

    "The officers have to be language proficient," he was quoted a saying by the paper. "They need to be versed in the culture and country conditions. They have to be trained in interview techniques and fraud detection. And generally this was not the case with the officers that were sent."

    C. Stewart Verdery, the department's assistant secretary for border security, said homeland security officers had reviewed about 19,000 visa applications in Saudi Arabia from October 2003 to August 2004. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudi Arabian citizens.

  4. #4
    U.S. Acts to Notify Foreigners of Tougher Rules for Visits

    Source: New York Times
    By RACHEL L. SWARNS

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 - Only three weeks before sweeping policy shifts begin affecting foreign visitors at American airports, officials say they are intensifying their efforts to inform travelers from more than 20 industrialized nations to prepare for tough new entry requirements.

    By the end of September, tourists from 27 nations, including Britain, Germany, Japan and Australia, will for the first time be photographed and fingerprinted on arrival. And beginning at the end of October, passengers from 22 countries, mostly in Europe, must carry machine-readable passports in order to visit without visas.

    Officials at the Department of Homeland Security plan to start advertising in newspapers in Britain and Australia later this month, informing travelers from those countries that airport inspectors here will start collecting digital fingerprints and photographs from them on Sept. 30. The officials, who have highlighted the new requirement in meetings with trade groups and journalists in London and Germany in recent months, also plan to attend a trade show in Hong Kong in coming weeks.

    On Wednesday, the State Department sent a cable to its consulates and embassies in the affected nations, encouraging consular officials to expand their efforts to inform travelers about the need to have machine-readable passports by Oct. 26. Consular officials have already been posting advisories on their Web sites and meeting with chambers of commerce, travel groups and news organizations, the department says.

    Tourists from Europe and other industrialized countries are not typically required to apply for visas to visit the United States, but they will have to do so if they do not have machine-readable passports by the Oct. 26 deadline. Officials at the Travel Industry Association of America, which represents the nation's largest airlines, hotels, cruise lines and car rental companies, say some people in Spain, Italy, France and Switzerland still lack such passports.

    Travel industry officials commend Homeland Security for its efforts but say the State Department is doing too little to inform travelers about the machine-readable policy.

    Rick Webster, director of government relations for the Travel Industry Association, said that without a concerted publicity campaign, some travelers might arrive at American airports without either the required passport or a visa.

    Starting next week, the industry group says, it will send hundreds of e-mail messages to travel associations, foreign journalists and others to advise them of the changes.

    Angela Aggeler, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said officials had been using various means, among them getting articles published in European newspapers, to spread word.

    The new policy that requires tourists from 27 industrialized nations to be fingerprinted and photographed affects travelers from 22 European countries and Brunei, Singapore, Japan, Australia and New Zealand who can currently travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. Because students and other visitors from those nations who stay for more than three months are required to carry visas, they have already been subjected to these new security measures, which took effect for all visa carriers in January regardless of country of origin.

    The policy that requires travelers to carry machine-readable passports will now affect 22 of those 27 nations. The remaining five - Andorra, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and San Marino - adopted the American standard in 2003.

  5. #5
    Visa Denials and "Culture of No" Hurt America

    Source: USVISA.com

    The denial of scholar Tariq Ramadan's visa is the most recent example of the "culture of no" that has permeated the visa issuance and immigration admissions process since 9-11. Visa applications themselves decreased 15% between 2002 and 2003, as anticipated delays and denials caused prospective visitors to decide to not apply for a US visa.

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