Streamlined Program Makes Getting a U.S. Visa More Efficient

Via DOS

Students, as always, are welcomed to the United States, official says

Washington — U.S. efforts to improve its visa process are paying
off:  Nearly 97 percent of visa applications are processed within just
two or three days of the interview, and worldwide almost 80 percent of
visa applications are approved.  In 2006, the United States expects to
process some 7.5 million visa applications.

Tony Edson, deputy
assistant secretary of state for visa services, brought this good news
to an international audience during a September 6 webchat.

Students in particular are welcome, as they always have been, Edson said.

“The
United States and our consular officers everywhere around the world
value highly the exchange of international visitors and ideas,” he
said.  “We do our best to ensure America remains a welcoming
destination for international travelers while administering U.S. law
and safeguarding our borders.”

GETTING A STUDENT VISA

“There
is a widespread perception in some countries that it has become more
difficult to qualify for a student visa to the United States,” Edson
said.  “In fact, although we have made significant changes to the
application process by incorporating additional security checks,
fingerprinting and greatly expanded interview requirements, the basic
requirements for a student visa have not changed.”

Students
now are required to go to the U.S. embassy or consulate to be
fingerprinted and interviewed, but if they are bona fide students and
are able to fund the education they plan in the United States, they are
likely to qualify for visas, Edson said.

Edson did emphasize,
however, that the major mandate under U.S. law is that student visa
applicants must prove that they intend to return to their home country
after a temporary stay in the United States.

“We recognize,”
Edson said, “that the very best advertisement for America is America
and look forward to each and every international student who arrives at
our shores. We have added some additional security measures to the visa
process since 9/11, but even as we strive to make our country safer, we
have never stopped trying to make those security measures as efficient
and effective as possible.”

He urged students to apply for
their visas as early as possible and noted that students are given
priority in scheduling visa interviews.

U.S. VISA LAWS TREAT ALL EQUALLY

“The
United States government,” Edson emphasized, “does not discriminate
based on religion or any other factor in processing visas.

“U.S.
visas are processed everywhere around the world using the same
standards and requirements, most of them stipulated in U.S. law,” he
said.

He acknowledged that in some countries a higher
percentage of applicants might fail to qualify than in other
countries.  “This is not because of their nationality, but because of
their inability, as individual applicants, to meet the requirements of
U.S. law, Edson said.

One important law governing the visa
process, he said, is Section 214(b) of the U.S. Immigration and
Nationality Act.  The presumption under that law, Edson explained, is
that every visitor visa applicant is intending to immigrate to the
United States.

Therefore, applicants for visitor visas, he
said, must overcome this presumption by demonstrating that that they
have ties abroad that would compel them to leave the United States at
the end of their temporary stay.   Among the ties that bind a person to
his or her country of residence are possessions, employment and social
and family relationships.  U.S. consular officers make the
determination, but the burden of proof is on the applicant, he said.

“In
cases of students or younger applicants who may not have had an
opportunity to form many ties, consular officers may look at the
applicant’s specific intentions, family situations, and long-range
plans and prospects within his or her country of residence,” Edson
said. “Each case is examined individually and is accorded every
consideration under the law.”

“Denial under Section 214(b) of
the law is not permanent,” Edson said, “and a consular officer will
reconsider a case if an applicant can show further convincing evidence
of ties outside the United States. Unfortunately, some applicants will
not qualify for a nonimmigrant visa, regardless of how many times they
reapply, until their personal, professional, and financial
circumstances change considerably. “

Under the Visa Waiver
Program, Edson noted, travelers from countries that have met criteria
specified in U.S. law can travel for tourism and business to the United
States without applying for a visa. Visa Waiver Program travelers can
stay in the United States for no longer than 90 days.

THE VISA WAIVER PROGRAM

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers must have secure passports, and all passports must be machine-readable.

Many
passports are now equipped with security features, such as digital
photographs and contactless chips that can be read without being
touched to a sensor.

VWP travelers who obtained
machine-readable passports (MRPs) before October 26, 2005, are not
required to have the digital photograph or contactless chip, Edson
said.  The traveler who obtained, renewed or extended an MRP before
October 26, 2005, will not be required to get another passport for
travel until his or her MRP expires.

Passports issued, renewed or extended on or after October 26, 2006, must be machine-readable and include the integrated chip.

For more information, see the online journal “See You in the USA,” the IIP web site Immigration Reform and the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Web site.

A transcript of Edson’s remarks is available at IIP’s Webchat Station.

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

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