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U.S. releases new rules for visa

Posted by By Francis Obinor on 2004/10/27 | Views: 7646 |

U.S. releases new rules for visa

THE United States (U.S.) Consulate-General in Lagos has urged applicants in all non-immigrant visa classification to now make all their appointments online in a bid to boost the visa policy procedure.

THE United States (U.S.) Consulate-General in Lagos has urged applicants in all non-immigrant visa classification to now make all their appointments online in a bid to boost the visa policy procedure.

According to Consulate's Information Officer Storm Jackson, applicants in all non-immigrant visa classifications now have to access the recently deployed internet-based visa appointment system

Jackson, who yesterday also gave tips on the upcoming U.S. elections on November 2 and the security measures put in place, stated that such appointments would be available till the end of November.

Previously, applicants who sought visitor, student, or religious worker visa were the only ones directed towards the appointment system. Henceforth, however, all non-immigrant visa applicants without a current or recently expired U.S. visa must make an appointment online.

Also in a statement, elderly visa applicants who cannot converse in English have been given the opportunity to bring an English-speaking family member or escort to their interviews to quicken the process.

The move, the statement asserted, "is to help translate and assist with fingerprinting to ensure that the visa interview process is more efficient and less stressful for elderly applicants."
But it stressed that in the process of bringing in an escort into the Consulate, "only one appointment will be necessary."
On the Drop Box category, the statement said that applicants would no longer be able to collect newly issued visas on the day of their interviews but will wait till the next day to enhance the security of the visas.

Other aspects of the Drop box facility still remain unchanged as applicants will continue to drop off applications and fees the day before their interviews. However, they are only eligible for the drop box programme if their two-year, multiple entry visa is either current or has expired less than one year before the date of application. Applicants in this category do not require appointments through the online system.

"Changes in visa procedures reflect our concern for ensuring the safety of U.S. residents and visitors alike and are not intended to hinder legitimate travel," the statement said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has promised not to turn back travellers from 22 nations at the border following a new document requirement, which took effect yesterday.

Prior to the change, visitors from visa waiver programme countries could enter the U.S. without a visa.

The countries include: Austria, Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg and Monaco.

Others are Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The move to effect the machine-readable passports, according to Asa Hutchinson of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is to establish additional security features that minimise the ability to fraudulently use a passport.

"That added security feature is important for compliance with out laws and for the nature of today's world," he added.

For visitors who failed to meet yesterday's deadline, he said: "they will be allowed into the United States and not be turned back simply because there is non-compliance with the machine-readable passport requirement."
Hutchinson said immigration officers would offer non-compliant travellers a one-time exemption from the requirement and admit them to the United States. Border officers will make note of the exemption on the passport and inform the travellers of their need for the updated passport or a visa. On subsequent visits, if travellers do not have a machine-readable passport or a visa, they could be refused entry, he said.

"We want to accomplish our objective of full compliance as soon as possible, but we also want people to understand that their first experience in the United States will be a positive experience."
The U.S. is insisting on the machine-readable passports because the encoded data makes them more secure documents than the traditional passport.

U.S. officials have worked over the last year to encourage other governments to speed their conversion to the new passport format. In doing so, the officials have pointed out that the international travelling public will be safer since as more nations issue the high-security passports, document forgeries will become more difficult, further constraining the black market in falsified papers needed by terrorists, smugglers and drug traffickers.

The October 26 deadline for conversion to the machine-readable passports applies only to visitors eligible to enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). This reciprocal agreement exists between the U.S. and selected developed nations whose citizens are not likely to attempt illegal immigration to the U.S.

Other nations are still working to make the conversion to the high-technology documents, and Hutchinson has said the U.S. is striving to assist them.

"The responsibility and the technical capability lies with the individual countries. We certainly have a good level of exchange from a technical standpoint, co-operation, and sharing of best practices with those countries," he said.

An estimated 13 million visitors from the VWP nations enter the U.S. each year.

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