Nov 10 2003
Department of Homeland Security to Open Five New Offices to Scrutinize Some Visa Applications
The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that they will open law enforcement offices in five Muslim countries. These offices, to be opened early next year, will investigate visa applicants suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, and will be located in American embassies or consulates in Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. These five nations have a large amount of citizens who apply for visas to the United States, and have a heightened presence of terrorist groups within their borders.
These five offices will join offices already open in Saudi Arabia in Riyadh and Jedda, and will be an additional line of defense in the U.S.’s war on terrorism.
Initially, twelve investigators will be given diplomatic status and sent to open the offices, with the expressed intention of bringing in additional offices and investigators. These investigators will work closely with State Department Consular Officers, who will continue to process the majority of visa applications.
But, while Consular Officers will continue to review the majority of applications and interview applicants, Homeland Security Officers will have the final say on issuing visas and will decide which applicants should be investigated.
It is the expressed goal of the Department of Homeland Security to both strengthen the security of American borders and create a more smooth and efficient process for routine applicants to enter the United States. "We want to free up the consular officials to process legitimate visas,” said one official, “ending some of the delays that we have experienced overseas.”
American officials believe that host nations will support the new law enforcement offices and that, ultimately, these offices and investigators will assist in creating a secure and open system of immigration in the United States. “D.H.S. [Department of Homeland Security] is aware that among the millions of visa applications filed annually there will be cases that will not present clear-cut answers and that will require further scrutiny and vetting,” says Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security. “[However,] we remain committed to open, secure borders and will continue to balance these interests while ensuring that homeland security requirements receive the priority they deserve in the visa process."