US: coalition asks for more open visa policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jan 31 14:09:19 UTC 2007

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Coalition of Exchange, Trade, and Research Groups Calls for a More Open
Visa Policy


Despite improvements, U.S. visa-approval procedures are still needlessly
slow and unfriendly for foreign scholars, students, and others, and are in
urgent need of revision, a coalition of five exchange, trade, and research
organizations say in a policy proposal scheduled for release today. The
proposal was signed by the Alliance for International Educational and
Cultural Exchange, the Coalition for Employment Through Exports, the
Heritage Foundation, Nafsa: Association of International Educators, and
the National Foreign Trade Council. Observers say it was significant that
the appeal attracted the support of such a broad range of groups: two
business associations, a conservative think tank, and two groups promoting
academic and other exchanges. The document, titled "Realizing the
Rice-Chertoff Vision: A National-Interest-Based Visa Policy for the United
States," says the government has failed to follow through on a joint
announcement issued last January by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.

In that announcement, known as "The Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision: Secure
Borders and Open Doors in the Information Age," the two secretaries
promised, among other things, smarter screening procedures that would make
the process of entering the United States faster and smoother for most
visitors. Today's policy proposal by the five groups says relations
between the State and Homeland Security Departments remain "plagued by
serious disconnects." It continues, "The very positive vision articulated
by the secretaries -- truly balancing security and openness -- has not
been achieved at the operational level."

The document calls on Congress to:

Restore to the Secretary of State the authority to waive the personal
interview required of almost all persons requesting a visa. The interviews
generally last only a few minutes, but applicants must frequently travel
considerable distances to a U.S. consulate, and sometimes must wait in
line for hours.

Expand the Visa Waiver Program under which visitors from 27 countries can
come to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.

Exercise vigorous oversight of executive-branch implementation of the
Rice-Chertoff vision.

The proposal calls on the executive branch to "articulate a clear,
operational visa policy" containing reforms "that address legitimate
security concerns and keep our nation a welcoming nation." Victor C.
Johnson, associate executive director for public policy at Nafsa, pointed
to a number of well-publicized cases over the last year in which foreign
scholars were denied a visa, complained of humiliating treatment by
consular officials, or were sent home after arriving at a U.S. airport.
"Foreign scholars, particularly scientists, continue to feel they have to
go through hoops they shouldn't have to go through," said Mr. Johnson.
This is especially onerous for foreign scholars "who are well-known and
have traveled to the United States many times and whose work is open and
transparent." Mr. Johnson said that although the number of foreign
students in the United States has stopped falling, according to the latest
annual survey, the Open Doors report, foreign enrollments "haven't gone up
yet." He added, "We still have a long way to go."

Mr. Johnson said he hoped the new Democratic-controlled Congress "would
exercise more vigorous oversight" on the issue. James J. Carafano, a
senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the need for visa reform
was a "bipartisan issue." He added, "It's been long enough since 9/11 that
people are ready to look reasonably at this issue. "Just keeping people
out is not effective security." In a written statement, Bill Reinsch,
president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said the visa policy in
place now is "encouraging smart people to go elsewhere, and we are
encouraging American businesses to move their innovation capabilities
outside the United States so their foreign engineers and scientists don't
have to run the visa gauntlet.  That is bad for our economy, bad for our
competitiveness, and bad for our security."

Additionally, the policy proposal calls on the government to:

Establish a "Trusted Traveler" program to expedite approval for frequent
travelers who submit to extensive background checks in advance and who
have a prior history of visa approval.

Put a fully electronic application process in place to allow consulates to
undertake any necessary additional screening before interviewing

Further improve the security-clearance process for scientists to reduce
the overall visa processing time to no more than 30 days.

Establish a special review process to resolve applications that take
longer than 45 days to process.

Enhance consular resources to respond better to shifts in visa demand.

Restore domestic visa-revalidation procedures that were available to
nonimmigrants with employment-based visas before 2004.

Develop an efficient system for providing Social Security numbers at the
port of entry for those visitors eligible to work, as is already done for


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