01 August 2003
State Department Conducting More Interviews with Visa Applicants
Step comes as part of ongoing national security
The U.S. State Department has announced new procedures for processing
nonimmigrant visa applications 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 intended
to increase the security of the United States and create greater
uniformity in visa processing 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 are 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.
Stephen A. "Tony" Edson of the Bureau of Consular Affairs 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 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
added that the State Department remains committed to maintaining
a timely process and does not intend to impede the process for "travelers
whose presence we value."
Following is the transcript of the briefing:
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER
JULY 30, 2003
FOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING
TONY EDSON, SENIOR ADVISOR FOR STRATEGIC PLANNING, VISA SERVICES
DIRECTORATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE
"NEW VISA PROCEDURES"
MODERATOR PAUL. DENIG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and
welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center in Washington. A
special welcome to journalists assembled in the Foreign Press Centers
in New York and Los Angeles.
We are pleased to be able to welcome today to our podium, Tony
Edson, the Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning in the Visa Services
Directorate of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. He will be briefing
today on new visa procedures. Mr. Edson will have an opening statement
and after that will be glad to take your questions.
MR. EDSON: Good afternoon. I would like to start briefly reviewing
the difference between a visa and our own port of entry procedures
just so that there is a clear understanding of what the Department
of State does with visa processing, as opposed to what our immigration
personnel do, and then we'll move into a brief review of some changes
we have made to our policy regarding interviews of visa applicants.
A visa means that a U.S. consular officer has reviewed an individual's
application, and that the officer has made a preliminary determination
that the individual is eligible to enter the United States for
a specific purpose, the purpose that matches the visa in question.
The visa itself does not permit the individual to enter the U.S.,
only to apply for entry into the United States. They are allowed
to travel to the port of entry, by land or air, and then their
application for entry into the U.S. is reviewed by immigration
personnel. Immigration personnel, who now work for the Department
of Homeland Security, make entry decisions based on the law and
based on Department of Homeland Security rules and regulation.
What we'll be talking about today is the part that goes on overseas,
what consular officers do when reviewing visa applications. With
the exception of travelers eligible for the Visa Waiver Program,
under the law of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, all
non-immigrant applicants are required to personally appear before
a consular officer unless that personal appearance is waived.
Waivers have only been available for a limited number of categories,
and the determination of whether or not to waive personal appearance
for a visa applicant overseas has been left up to the discretion
of the adjudicating consular officer.
The Department of State has evaluated the regulations concerning
the categories of applicants for whom a waiver is available, and
has decided that a more secure process requires greater worldwide
uniformity. Therefore, a decision has been made to revise the personal
appearance waiver categories in order to further strengthen the
visa process. These revised regulations will be effective on August
Since September 11, 2001, we have engaged in an ongoing review
of visa processes, as it relates to the security of our nation.
In this process, we have greatly increased the rate of personal
interviews to meet national security goals.
As a result, many of our posts overseas, many of our consular
offices are already handling a visa interview workload quite similar
to what will be required under the new regulations. We have a net
increase of 39 new consular positions in this fiscal year, and
another 80 consular positions will be added in fiscal year 2004.
The revision of the regulations will also help us prepare for
the August 26, 2004, congressionally imposed deadline, when, in
order to collect biometric indicators for applicants, we'll need
to have all applicants appear personally.
Under these revised regulations, the ones that go into effect
on August 1st, nonimmigrant visa applicants for whom a waiver of
personal appearance may be granted include: individuals under the
age of 16 and over the age of 60; foreign government officials
and persons working for accredited international organizations;
repeat applicants who have demonstrated their eligibility, have
not previously violated nonimmigrant status and whose visa has
expired within 12 months of application -- that's the wordiest
one -- and persons for whom national interests or unusual circumstances
In addition, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa
Services may grant an exception to a defined class of visa applicants.
Requests for such exceptions are closely scrutinized and based
on a careful evaluation of national security interests, as well
as host country conditions and circumstances. To date, only limited
exceptions have been granted.
We emphasize that the new procedures regarding visa and travel
document requirements may cause some delays. However, we remain
committed to timely processing of nonimmigrant visa applications
while remaining in compliance with and mindful of our national
and border security requirements.
We continue to work to ensure that access to our country is not
impeded for those international travelers whose presence we value.
And we are determined to preserve the crucial benefits provided
by these international visitors to the United States, as we work
to strengthen the visa process' security.
For example, we're giving special priority right now to students
and academic visitors when scheduling interviews during the summer
months, as a way of trying to ensure that this important class
of visitors makes it to the United States in time for their academic
programs to begin in the fall.
That's all I had prepared for you in prepared remarks.
MR. DENIG: Okay. We'll start with questions by going to Los Angeles
and New York. We'll go to Los Angeles first. And if you will just
identify yourself and your news organization please.
QUESTION: Yes, my name is Andrew Gumbel, from The Independent
of Britain. I had a question about applying for visas, both immigrant
and nonimmigrant. I believe that it used to be possible to apply
for these anywhere at the world at any U.S. Consulate, and that
now the rules have changed and certain restrictions apply to where
you can go to get certain categories of visas. I was hoping you
could clarify that for us.
MR. EDSON: Yes. I mean, I am not sure I completely understand
the question. You can apply for a visa -- if our office processes
immigrant visas, and we have a much smaller number of offices which
process immigration cases. You can apply for the immigrant visa
case at any place where you are normally resident. It gets a little
more complicated than that, but it has to do with where you live.
In the nonimmigrant visa case, you can apply for it anywhere where
you are physically present. If it is not the place where you normally
reside, it is more difficult for our Consular personnel to evaluate
the application. That's more difficult to process. With the increase
in the use of appointment systems and whatever backlogs might develop
with those appointment systems, it obviously is more difficult
for people to apply for a visa at a particular place on the fly
than perhaps it used to be.
MR. DENIG: Okay. Next question for Los Angeles.
QUESTION: My name is Fastner with RTL Television Germany. Those
changes which is going to take effect on August 1st, what actually
does it mean for people who have to revalidate the visa? Is there
anything else which is going to be different? Do we have to fill
out the forms differently, or what does it actually mean?
MR. EDSON: For the most part, with revalidating your visas, revalidating
here, for the sake of this discussion, let's say that we're talking
about the same category of visa. You're getting another visa in
the same category in the place where you normally live.
For the most part, all we would be asking you to do would be to
supply the passport that had that old visa in it, and then the
application would be reviewed usually without personal appearance
and without an interview for now. The consular officer can always
require an interview if after reviewing the application it appears
MR. DENIG: Any more questions from Los Angeles?
All right. Then let's move to New York. New York, your question.
QUESTION: Oren Yaniv from Israel. There were reports today in
the Israeli media that the waiting period for visa has been reduced
to one week from three months, or three weeks to those who were
born in Arab countries. Can you confirm that, or is there any time
period that you can put forth for a visa after the interview?
MR. EDSON: No. The waiting periods you're discussing, I think,
apply to a number of different things. There is the waiting period
that may be involved in waiting for an appointment for an interview.
That will vary with all of our posts, and it varies with the time
of year. Actually, this time of year right now, as I said, we are
prioritizing students in most of our posts. And so it would vary
depending on the visa category as well.
In addition, there may or may not, depending on the visa category
and other factors, be special screening requirements, special processing
requirements. Those also vary depending on the visa category and
the nature of the travel involved, and that waiting period also
changes and fluctuates at different geographic locations and times
We are committed to doing our best to making those waiting periods
predictable, so that we can inform the public, as best we can,
what they're looking forward to, what they are looking at when
they apply for a visa. We're working on that.
QUESTION: One more question regarding other reports that Israel
may be included in the waiver program. (Inaudible) reported about
that last week.
MR. DENIG: I'm sorry. Could you start the question again please?
QUESTION: Can you clarify that? Is there any possibility that
Israel will be included at some stage in the waiver program?
MR. DENIG: Could you repeat the question, please?
QUESTION: That Israel may be included in the waiver program, the
27 countries that do not require a visa? Is that at all a possibility,
or are you aware of any workings towards that?
MR. EDSON: I am not aware of any discussions of expanding the
number of countries included in the waiver program.
MR. DENIG: New York, do you have any other questions?
QUESTION: Phoenix Television. I have two questions. The first
one, since there is a limitation for questions being asked, one
of my colleagues would like to know -- it's about -- it's for ourselves
-- does a foreign journalist have to go back to the country for
interviews -- for interviews for renewing the visas?
And my second question is, since it will be an increasing workload
for visa application in overseas U.S. embassy, and then will this
kind of change eventually reflect on the visa application fee eventually?
And then, is there any websites or handout or official documents
we can get about this change of visa application procedure?
MR. EDSON: I'll start from the back and work forward here. There
is no change in procedures. This is essentially an internal change
in the way we handle applications. And so other than applying early,
as early as practical in your individual circumstances, there is
nothing that the traveling public needs to do. We will then process
the cases and work with the public on a case-by-case basis.
In terms of the fee, we charge a machine-readable visa fee for
processing applications that is assessed on a cost reimbursable
basis required by U.S. law. Periodically, a cost of service study
is done, and that fee is adjusted. Depending on the cost of providing
services, that would be done again. That really is not directly
linked to any changes that would be made in the application process.
Journalists' visas, I-visas, you still should be able, as far
as I'm aware....
MR. EDSON: We're still revalidating here the same way you always
have, no change there.
MR. EDSON: Website. The Department of State, Bureau of Consular
Affairs website is travel.state.gov, and it has links to the Department
of Homeland Security sites, which are also important in a lot of
this, and in whatever information is available on our own processes
as they change.
MR. DENIG: Each one of our embassy websites should also reflect
any changes that occur and provide full information.
Okay. Let's go to Washington. And let's just start right up front
here with this lady. Please use the microphone, identify yourself
and your news organization.
QUESTION: Salmy Hashim, Malaysian News Agency. First question
is that, whether this questionnaire that you're giving out to applicants,
is that standard all over the world, or does it defer if it's a
And is there a quota in accepting visa applicants from Muslim
countries like, you know, certain numbers are only allowed from
countries like Malaysia, Indonesia or other Middle Eastern countries?
And I think that's it for now.
MR. EDSON: Okay. The application forms are standard and are published
on the Internet. We have a standard nonimmigrant --
QUESTION: Not forms, the questionnaire by the interviewer.
MR. EDSON: Oh, the questions that an interviewer might ask?
MR. EDSON: I am hesitating because the purpose of the interview
is standard worldwide. We are trying to assess whether an applicant
qualifies for the visa in the category in which they are applying,
and at the same time assess whether there are national security
issues that might arise. Based on the circumstances, based on the
answers to the first questions, that interview can go any number
of directions. There is no special list of questions that are asked
in one country or another.
MR. EDSON: Quota. No, there are no quotas at all.
MR. DENIG: All right. The gentleman up front here.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), India (inaudible) Today. The question is
that India, as far as India is concerned, why they are already
overloaded with the work inside the visa -- in the U.S. Embassy
in Delhi. Now with the new changes, what -- how much it will affect
the people in India getting the visas?
And also, we had a call from a lady here in the U.S. She is a
green card holder, and she applied about two years ago for her
family in Delhi to come here. Like, but in the meantime, young
husband died last month. She had to leave for India. Now how many
-- much chance does she have, you know, (inaudible) the visas to
bring her three children here since she is an immigrant for the
last three years?
MR. EDSON: All right. On the first question, I didn't come with
the statistics on our individual posts, what sort of workload they
have, and what sort of backlog they have. It is possible that the
number of people interviewed in our post in India is quite high
already; and that, therefore, these changes will make very little
difference. But I don't know. I can't give you specifics.
On the second question, I really can't give you any specifics
either because it depends so much on the individual case. She would
need to speak with our consular section there, or with the Department
of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: The chances that they might have a sensitivity for her.
MR. EDSON: She would need to speak to someone who is in a position
to evaluate all the details and decide whether her -- children
you said, right? -- whether they qualify for U.S. visas in some
category. It's just difficult to speak hypothetically about.
MR. DENIG: Okay. Let's take the lady right here, and we'll follow
QUESTION: Charlene Porter from the Washington File. Would you
clarify again the status of the 27 countries where nonimmigrants
did not require a visa? And if that status does remain the same
then would you put that in the context of your earlier comment
that one objective of this is to create a greater uniformity in
how these are handled?
MR. EDSON: Right. The visa waiver countries fall under a special
program allowing travel to the United States without a visa. The
expansion or the regularization of our interview requirements applies
to applicants who need visas. The visa waiver travelers not requiring
visas do not require interviews. There will be no change. In terms
of the context of greater global regularity, because that is a
regular very, very tightly defined program under U.S. law, the
consistency that we are after is there.
QUESTION: You are saying that the 27 countries are identified
under a separate section of the law?
MR. EDSON: Right.
QUESTION: And so you are not tinkering with that part of the law
in these changes?
MR. EDSON: Correct.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MR. EDSON: Actually, we're not tinkering with any part of the
law. It's a regulatory change, but a procedural change in regulatory.
QUESTION: My name is Andrei Sitov with the Russian News Agency
TASS. Thank you for coming. I guess some of us want to talk to
you as a visa officer and to ask you technical questions, and I
am no exception, but I want to ask first a political question.
Our embassy here complains that you basically break the understanding
that you have. And I guess it's formalized in a document or something,
especially on the amount of time that it takes you to approve visas,
even for official visitors.
Quite recently, a few days ago, we have had this mini scandal
where a couple of high ranking officials from the Russian Space
Agency were only given visas at the last moment. Basically, they
had to cancel their tickets; and then at the very last moment,
they were issued visas and they came.
So, basically, the question is -- of course, I am not asking you
to comment on specific cases -- but since Secretary Powell once
told me that you don't break agreements, you either withdraw from
them or you change them or you don't -- you don't sign them in
the first place.
What is your plan, at this point, to change the understanding,
to change the documents that you have for that kind of visas, official
MR. EDSON: In the context of my earlier comments about the interview
QUESTION: No, it's not. It's in the context of visa regulations,
MR. EDSON: I can't give you an answer. I don't know enough about
the details of that bilateral agreement. I'm aware of that agreement,
but I am not aware of the details of the implementation at this
QUESTION: And you wouldn't be able to confirm or deny the fact
that this agreement is being broken, basically, not being complied
MR. EDSON: No, I could confirm that we are complying with it within
our understanding of the agreement. But I don't know the details,
and I am not involved in that operation.
QUESTION: Technically, I guess the most important question for
us here, especially here, is -- and my office ran into this situation
at least once where we have had a visa question, a visa issue.
And the person involved had to leave and get a new visa to come
back, and the problem there was we couldn't figure out whom to
talk to. There was no one.
The State Department said it's not their issue because the visa
is issued by the embassy. The INS, at that point, basically, was
inapproachable. We corresponded with them, but we spent money on
a lawyer and we never got anything.
Basically, the question is: Is there a plan to establish a contact
point for people on visa issues, where such issues could be looked
at, and maybe if not a decision, then a recommendation could be
given to someone in this similar position?
MR. EDSON: Yes, although I am not sure that it speaks directly
to your question. We have infrastructure to handle inquiries concerning
visa problems and visa questions. They don't always have to be
problems. We're aware that that infrastructure now needs improvement,
and it's being improved.
This is at the Department of State. It's being improved as I speak.
I can't give you a timeline, but we hope to have a call center
with expanded capability in place soon. We have looked constantly
at our website and tried to make sure that that's more responsive,
as responsive as possible.
On the other side, we do share responsibility, as we discussed
early on, with the Department of Homeland Security, and sometimes
it is difficult for the public to figure out where to send those
questions to. I know that that's also an issue that they are looking
out for, that public information function.
QUESTION: And last thing. I understand there is no change in the
I-visas that involves us, all of us here.
MR. EDSON: No change in the I-visas.
QUESTION: And another thing that we usually come across is when
we have people visiting, sometimes on official business, sometimes,
frankly, people who probably want to come as basically business
tourists, and they ask us for support. Does that make any sense
if we send a letter of support or something? Is it really relevant?
MR. EDSON: I mean, for the most part, we're evaluating the application
in terms of the individual application, in terms of that individual
applicant's expressed interest in traveling to the United States,
and their ties to their home country. They are in certain visa
categories, perhaps, their technical background or education background,
and does it match the stated goal for travel into the United States.
It might be the case that an expression of support from your organization
would be germane. In most cases, I suspect, it probably isn't.
It just depends on whether their travel has something to do with
your organization. And it would be appropriate in that case to
help them out.
MR. DENIG: Take you over here, and then we'll take Thomas in the
QUESTION: T.V. Parsuraman, Press Trust of India. Last year, when
the 27 countries were announced for visa restrictions or other
new visa rules, there was a statement I believe that from January
1st, next year, the same rules will apply to all countries except
the visa waiver countries. And I was wondering whether that is
And, secondly, there have been reports recently in the (inaudible)
that this summer, the number of students coming to this country
from abroad for learning English, is down sharply because they
couldn't get their applications in time.
MR. EDSON: Okay. On the first question, I am not -- I am not completely
clear of what we're talking about. NSEERS, correct?
MR. EDSON: And that leads me to believe -- when I was answering
your question, we were talking about visa waiver, the number 27
is coming up. NSEERS is a program administered by the Department
of Homeland Security, and there were discussions of that being
a prototype for exit/entry systems. That's not something we're
involved in implementing, so I can't answer that question.
I have also read the same press reports of a reduction in the
number of students. I am not sure what the question was.
QUESTION: Whether the report is true, and whether you're doing
anything about it.
MR. EDSON: Well, as I had said before, we are trying to do what
we can to prioritize the applications of students, so that they
can get here in time for their programs. Summer programs are going
to be problematic because they're of shorter duration. If someone
is late, they have missed the program. But we're committed to doing
what we can to improve.
We're not satisfied that even our best this year will necessarily
be acceptable. We would like to improve the situation so that anyone
who applies in a timely manner can get to the United States for
whatever program it is. I read the same article. I know that there
is a reduction in applications, but I don't have numbers.
QUESTION: Thomas Gorguissian, An Nahar, Lebanon. My first question
is regarding your remarks of the question that you noted at the
beginning that getting a visa doesn't mean you can enter the country.
I mean, can you clarify a little bit? Does it mean that people
who have a visa from a certain country, they can come here, and
then can be returned back to their country?
MR. EDSON: Correct.
QUESTION: Is that correct?
MR. EDSON: That is correct.
MR. DENIG: That's always been the case.
MR. EDSON: Yeah, that's not a change. There was --
MR. EDSON: We have a split system in the United States.
QUESTION: But you (inaudible) to mentioning about this Homeland
MR. EDSON: Right.
QUESTION: What is the percentage of people returned?
MR. EDSON: I don't know. We don't have anything to do with the
ports of entry.
QUESTION: Okay. The second question is regarding this -- you don't
know exactly how much (inaudible) happened because of this new
system or the possibility of application of the waiting list. How
many applicants are there before this system applied, or before
the delay started?
MR. EDSON: This system you're referring to, all changes in security?
QUESTION: That, let's say, visas were issued all over the world.
A PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)
MR. PATT: I'm Stuart Patt from the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
If you're asking how many visas were issued before September 11,
for our fiscal year 2001, which ended September 30, 2001, essentially
at the time of the attack, that year we had a little over 10 million
applications for nonimmigrant visas, and we issued about 7.5 million
This past fiscal year, [fiscal year 2002, which ended September
30, 2002] we had approximately 8 million applications -- I think
it's 7.9 million -- and we issued around 5.5, 5.7 million of them.
So the number, the percentage of those who were denied a visa has
gone up slightly, but the biggest change has been a decline in
a number of applications, and that decline happened long before
we started instituting any of these policies Mr. Edson is talking
Immediately after 9/11, we, in the year after that, had a drop
of more than 25 percent in number of applications received. So
it's impossible for us to really tell you how much is related to
a change in the world economy, how much is related to security,
how much is related to our policies.
QUESTION: The other question is related to the date you have mentioned
which is August 26, 2004.
MR. EDSON: October 26.
QUESTION: Sorry, October 26.
QUESTION: You did say August.
MR. EDSON: Oh, October 26, 2004.
QUESTION: And you mention -- what is this stage, new stage in
application or new stage in visa?
MR. EDSON: Yes, October 26, 2004, is the legislated deadline in
the Enhanced Border Security Act for implementation of biometrics
in all U.S. travel documents -- visas -- and in our visas issued
overseas, which means, at a minimum, the ICAO standard, some form
of facial recognition standard, and, in addition, probably some
form of fingerprint or other biometric that's under discussion
and review right now.
QUESTION: The eyeprint, whatever you call it?
MR. EDSON: Yeah, retinal scan or iris or whatever.
QUESTION: August 26th, then?
MR. EDSON: No, I misspoke. October 26th, 2004, is the deadline
in the law.
QUESTION: Okay. So it's still a year, 15 months away.
MR. EDSON: Right.
QUESTION: Okay, okay.
QUESTION: Well, that eye picture, fingerprint, what is that?
MR. EDSON: At a minimum, it will be photograph.
QUESTION: Photograph and fingerprint?
MR. EDSON: In addition, it will likely be something else, probably
fingerprint, but a final decision has not been made yet.
QUESTION: So the fingerprint is not standard right now? Fingerprint
and photo -- I thought they've already -- they're already implementing
that, photo and fingerprint.
MR. EDSON: No, we may be talking about two different things. For
NSEERS registration, this National Security Entry/Exit Registration
System that the Department of Homeland Security manages at the
ports of entry, fingerprints are involved in that. We, overseas
in the Department of State, we fingerprint only under very limited
QUESTION: So, mainly they are tourists and they are students,
and you say nowadays you are focusing on the students, especially
with academic year. And let's say sick people or patients want
to be treated here. Is going to be different treatment in these
different categories, or just like all the same with the same waiting
MR. EDSON: Today, as I mentioned, we are trying to prioritize
groups that have an imminent need to travel very quickly. I guess,
as managers, our goal would be a system that works so smoothly
that prioritization would be unnecessary. But as long as it is
necessary for us to make special provisions to help ensure the
success of programs like academic exchange programs, then we're
prepared to do that and we will work to do that.
QUESTION: Question follow-up to what you said. Is there a criteria,
or just it's the judgment is the one who is interviewing the person?
MR. EDSON: For?
QUESTION: For this issuing the visa or not.
MR. EDSON: That's a discretionary judgment by the adjudicating
consular officer. That's the way our law is written.
MR. DENIG: But that's always been the case.
MR. EDSON: Yeah, that's not a change.
MR. DENIG: All right, let's go to the gentleman next to the pillar
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Yuri. I'm a Japanese TV reporter with
NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation. I have three questions.
First question is, well, some tourism and industry companies are
really worried -- I mean, the new visa policy might affect the
tourism or U.S. economy. How much impact do you assess on the U.S.
tourism or U.S. economy? That is the first question.
And the second question is 27 countries of the Visa Waiver Program,
that includes Japan too, and they are required to have a machine-readable
passport in October, I guess. And for Japan, many Japanese people
have got a machine-readable passport, but I've heard like France
only half of French people have machine-readable passports. So
could you explain what the situation is like, you know, what countries
are ready to have a machine-readable passport and which countries
are not -- doesn't have a machine-readable passports?
And third question is -- this is the last question -- (laughter)
-- is biometrics, just you tall, I mean, you say that we need a
biometric visa in next year, in 2004. But, actually, ICAO -- I
MR. EDSON: ICAO?
QUESTION: ICAO has not set up the standard yet, I believe.
MR. EDSON: Right.
QUESTION: And Japan is not ready at all, I mean, to issue the
visa or passport of the biometrics. I mean, I just wondered, U.S.
has got ready to issue the biometrics visa or passport? And how
do you expect to have a biometric visa or passport next year? I
think many countries are not ready yet.
MR. EDSON: Well, thank you. These are easy, short questions. (Laughter.)
It seems my notes aren't very good. I'm going to go backwards with
you too, if I may.
The ICAO standard -- I am not intimate with where it is in this
stage. I know it's not finalized, but it's pretty close to being
What's at stake here, though, is that U.S. law has a deadline
for us on our visas, and we will issue our visas with biometrics
in them by the October 26th deadline of next year. What other countries
would do would be, obviously, up to those other countries, and
we have the luxury, because we're complying with our own internal
legal requirement, of taking the ICAO standard and then going beyond
or doing what we need to with it in order to implement. We also
have some experience in this area already so we're already building
on that experience and expect to meet the deadline.
The machine-readable passport for Visa Waiver countries: It has
been a requirement since the beginning of the Visa Waiver Program
in the 1980s that participating countries have programs to issue
and eventually replace their passports with machine-readable passports.
I don't know on an individual country-by-country basis where they
It's a little difficult to evaluate, obviously, because the fact
that a large number of the passport holders in a certain country
have the non-machine-readable passports is no measure of how many
of them intend to travel to the United States. So it's hard to
tell what sort of an impact that change will have on October 1st
and in the immediate aftermath.
I assume the first question was about the impact of this regularization
of the interview policy on the U.S. economy and tourism. The only
thing I would suggest is that most tourists to the United States
actually come from the Visa Waiver countries. It's one of the factors
that led to the Visa Waiver Program, and so this will have no impact
at all on that very large proportion or percentage of the U.S.
incoming tourist trade.
We'll do what we can to make sure that any other impact is minimized,
but essentially we have taken these steps because it was necessary
to improve national security rather than because of a cost-benefit
analysis based on the tourist industry per se. I mean, that's part
of an overall picture.
QUESTION: Hazel Fergenblatt. I'm from the newspaper La Nacion
of Costa Rica. I just want to know from August 1st what changes
will there be in the internal procedures of the embassies besides
the personal appearance issue?
MR. EDSON: On August 1st itself?
QUESTION: Yeah, is that -- you mentioned that like a deadline
for the (inaudible) these changes. Will there be any other -- I'm
not clear which other changes will there be from that?
MR. EDSON: Nothing else -- nothing else coming right now on August
QUESTION: Okay. The only thing will be then the personal appearance?
MR. EDSON: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. EDSON: Well, this is all part of an ongoing process so --
but nothing major. Nothing in the works like this.
QUESTION: Where can I find more information on the ongoing changes
MR. EDSON: No, sorry, maybe I've given you the wrong impression.
When I say it's an ongoing process, what we do every day is look
at visa applications, and so we are always looking at how we do
that and looking at U.S. border security and trying to make sure
that we're doing it the best way for the security of the country
and for the traveling public, sort of making sure that that all
works out. And so there will always be incremental changes, and
your people on the ground who are applying for visas might notice
something that they think is a change, and perhaps it is, but in
terms of global worldwide changes, there's nothing else for August
MR. DENIG: Just to keep track of various changes that occur, the
best places to look are either the Department of State website
or the local embassy website. Every embassy tries to keep its website
updated with information on changes in visa and other consular
QUESTION: Sabeth Ramirez from Voice of America.
We do broadcasts to Cuba and we get a lot of reports that visas
are taking much longer than ever for Cubans wanting to come up.
Is this a new policy or can you foresee any change in policy in
the near future?
MR. EDSON: It's hard to give you a categorical answer and say
that this is the reason for everything in Cuba. And one of the
things involved is additional scrutiny of the visa applications
due to some other changes in the law. But now we're not new. This
has been going on since May, 2002 -- congressionally mandated changes
in the clearance procedures.
As I suggested before, it's not like the procedure, the requirement,
may be set in stone. How we undertake it is something that we are
working with to try to make sure that our resources are matched
in the best way possible against national security needs and the
needs of the traveling public so that we work these things out.
So I foresee that there probably will be changes over time to
make the process more efficient, but nothing dramatic that's on
the rolls right now that I'm aware of for Cuba.
MR. DENIG: Let's go to the gentleman in the way back.
QUESTION: Choi, working for South Korean television MBC.
The State Department announced a couple of weeks ago in terms
of visa interview exemption and of each country, especially outside
the ages from 15 to 60, but South Korean U.S. Embassy announced
week ago as the interview exemption will be the falling to those
not in the ages 16 through 55. Then do you think it is some kind
of the favor to South Koreans or does U.S. Embassy to Seoul have
such a -- the wide leeway to be rid of the visa interview?
And second question is few South Korean students coming to this
country to start religious studies, so I mean, they apply -- they
applying for priesthoods. And then yesterday this one report that
about 600 institutions did not meet the deadline for (inaudible)
which was that (inaudible) that the Homeland Security. So students
-- who is actually legitimate visa holder, but the actual institution
the students apply for does not meet the deadline for (inaudible)
then how long does it need to be waited there for it to be checked
MR. EDSON: Again, going backwards, because this is easier: At
the airport, what the Department of Homeland Security does with
them -- I know that there have been press reports that they are
aware of these gaps in the SEVIS registration or are making accommodation,
but what they actually do at the port of entry with the students
is not something I could comment on. I have no idea how long it
For the first question, to start with, with our new policy, our
posts overseas do not have the discretion to change the rules for
a broad class of people. Any changes made for a whole class of
people need to be made or approved by Washington, by the Deputy
Assistant Secretary directly.
So at the end of your question you had suggested that maybe our
colleagues in Seoul had that kind of discretion, and they don't
across the board.
MR. EDSON: I know. I wasn't aware of the age. Are you --
MR. EDSON: Seoul is an unusual case because it processes the most
nonimmigrant visas of any of our posts overseas. And although these
changes and interview requirements actually will probably be relatively
uncumbersome to most places, in Seoul it could be an issue for
management. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State [for Consular
Affairs] did approve some special exemptions to the interview requirement
for Korean applications in Seoul to help manage this transition,
but I'm not aware of the details of them.
MR. DENIG: Okay, let's come up front to Andrei again in the second
row, and then we'll come up to the first row again.
QUESTION: Andrei Sitov again, two questions.
The group visas, be that for cruise, like ship cruise or aircraft
cruise, or sometimes I guess the tourists came in groups and had
a sort of a manifesto, a group visa -- what happens to those?
And secondly, the "respect visa." Now, they -- you say that when
-- since 2004 and you will have the biometrics, including the fingerprints.
For some people, for some VIPs, I guess, it would be a breach of
respect to give their fingerprints. So how high level officials
must apply to be waived for that?
MR. EDSON: Okay. In terms of the first question about group visas,
we actually have a group visa, in this instance, the manifest is
visaed rather than the individual passport of a traveler. That
exists today only for a crew list on an oceangoing vessel. We do
not have such things for tourist groups or for airlines. Tourists
and airlines all require individual passports. What we call a crew
list visa against the manifest of a vessel is under review at this
time. There may be changes, maybe not, but that's under review.
The second question is serious. You point out one of the many
sort of complications we'll have to wrestle with, we'll have to
deal with, in order to implement the biometric requirements. There
haven't been final decisions made. When they are made, it won't
be a decision that's made only by the Department of State; it would
have to be a decision by a number of agencies in the U.S. Government.
But the decision hasn't been made yet.
QUESTION: Going back to India, how do you (inaudible) this, the
27 countries that they have to be (inaudible) Visa Waiver countries,
I mean, and where is India in the future as far as Visa Waiver
And second, if these personal interviews, like in the past we
used to hear that there were some corruptions or agents were getting
visas without even qualification and some good people were not
getting visas, now you think it will be end of corruption as far
as personal interviews are concerned, or fraud and cheatings?
MR. EDSON: The Visa Waiver Program is defined under U.S. law,
and the requirements for participation in the program are in the
law. It includes things like the overstay rate for travelers from
a particular country, the refusal rate for visa applicants from
a particular country. And when countries meet those requirements,
then they are reviewed, and I believe -- I'm not sure where the
authority rests any more since the creation of the Department of
Homeland Security. It used to be shared. But anyway, there's a
protocol that's actually defined in the legislation.
Would that corruption end? You know, we'll do our best.
MR. EDSON: Yeah. Obviously, the visa is a precious document and
it's worth something, and we have to make ongoing, continual efforts
to look at our own management controls to make sure that the system
is not abused. And we do what we can. And interviewing more people,
hopefully, will have one consequence of making it more difficult
to obtain a U.S. visa by malfeasance.
MR. DENIG: Let's go to New York for two questions. New York, your
next question, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Kahraman Haliscelik from Show TV and Sky
Turk of Turkey.
We know that there are a lot of applicants who get their visas
from within the U.S. Let's say, I'm not sure about other visa types,
but on certain of about the situation of some of my colleagues.
Let's say one of my colleagues in Los Angeles has his visa from
within the U.S. has changed his visa while he was here to I-visa,
and he or she was asked to cover protests in Venezuela, let's say.
And if my colleague goes to Venezuela and wants to come back, I've
heard that he or she has to go back to his or her country to get
visa again to the U.S., instead of getting it from where he or
I was wondering if we could get some clarification on that. Thank
MR. EDSON: Okay. I think I can only touch generally on your question
because I believe that you're speaking again to that difference
between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department
of State. If the individual is here and has had their legal status
in the United States adjusted by the Department of Homeland Security,
they won't, in fact, have a visa in their passport in the new status
and therefore would have to get a visa if they travel outside of
the United States before they could return to the United States.
During a temporary stay in a country like Venezuela, for example,
in your example, that would probably be difficult, might be difficult.
It depends on the country. And they might find it easier to go
back to their country of nationality or normal residence abroad
in order to get the visa.
QUESTION: My name is Deepak Arora from National Herald, New Delhi,
In the light of the biometric changes being brought in the past
-- in the visas from October 26, 2004, what happens to the status
of the visas which have been issued beyond 2004? Like, normally,
visas are issued for five or ten years, you know. So could you
please clarify this?
MR. EDSON: Yeah, the fine print will have to be dealt with later.
But the law, the legal requirement, is that we issue visas with
the biometric indicator after October 26th, 2004. The law doesn't
speak to the existing visas.
QUESTION: In your remarks, you mentioned the number of the personnel,
I think, 39 people in this fiscal year and 80 people in the next
year. I mean, all over the world?
MR. EDSON: Yes.
QUESTION: Or this is in charge of regional something, I mean?
MR. EDSON: It's the number of new adjudicating consular officer
positions that we're adding.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) process?
MR. EDSON: Correct.
MR. DENIG: Okay. Any final questions, either here or elsewhere?
MR. DENIG: All right. Then I thank Mr. Edson very much. Thank
you very much. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, too.
Let me make one more comment, please: These issues dealing with
visas and the whole consular process that we've been talking about
will continue to be a very big story and we know that you are providing
a very valuable service to your listeners and readers, so please,
if there is anything that's unclear or you have any further questions,
feel free to call us here at the Foreign Press Center. We'll work
with the Consular Affairs Bureau to get you a good answer. And
please also encourage your readers and your viewers to check both
the embassy website in your country and the website that Tony mentioned,
www.travel.state.gov, or the website www.usavisa.gov They should
provide you with the latest updates.
Thank you very much.