Skip to comments.New Policy Delays Visas for Specified Muslim Men
Posted on 09/10/2002 5:17:11 AM PDT by kattracks
AKARTA, Indonesia, Sept. 9 Under a policy quietly imposed by the Bush administration three months ago, tens of thousands of Muslim men, from more than 26 countries, have not been able to get United States visas, disrupting lives, creating diplomatic tensions and causing headaches for American diplomats.
The policy requires that officials in Washington approve visas for every male between the ages of 16 and 45 who is a native of any one of 26 countries. Most are in the Mideast, but the list also includes Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, several diplomats said.
Even if a man does not live in one of those countries, but he or a close relative was born in one of them, his visa application must be sent for approval. Before Sept. 11, consular offices or embassies could issue most visas after a routine check.
After Sept. 11, applications from men in this category had to be sent to Washington, and if nothing negative turned up in 30 days, the embassy could issue the visa. Now the consular office must send the application to Washington and wait for a response. The policy was changed because the administration found that there were too many applications to review adequately within 30 days, diplomats said.
The delays now are interminable. One American official said there was a backlog of least 100,000 visa applications, now being reviewed by the F.B.I. and C.I.A.
At a time that the United States is trying to improve its image and win friends, American diplomats say the policy is generating widespread hostility in the very countries and population Muslim men from which the Bush administration most wants to gain support.
The visa applicants are primarily university students, many of whom had gone home for the summer vacation and are now unable to resume their studies, and business executives with American companies, who want to travel to the United States for sales conferences and other meetings at their headquarters, American diplomats said.
In Indonesia, a country crippled by corruption, there was widespread support for a program to send 54 civil servants to Los Angeles last month for a seminar about stemming corruption, followed by visits to offices in Washington and New York that dealt with the issue. But 51 of the individuals were unable to get their visas, the program's organizers said; of the 3 who did, one is a woman and the other two are men over 50.
"There are so many horror stories in the region," said a senior American diplomat in the Middle East. "We say we need to improve our image," he went on. "To do that people need to understand us. To do that we need more exchange programs." The men being denied visas and thus access to these programs, he said, "are the very people we want to engage, want to influence."
American officials say they cannot tell an applicant how long it will take for word from Washington, and that very few visas have been issued to men in this category.
In Singapore, it took a call from a cabinet minister to the American ambassador, Franklin L. Lavin, to get a visa for someone who had a scholarship to Stanford.
"It's been 22 years since I did consular work," Mr. Lavin said, laughing. But he added more seriously, "Don't we want to encourage more of these guys to get degrees in the U.S.?"
Singapore is not on the list of countries that automatically attract scrutiny, but many Singaporean residents were born in one of the suspect countries, or an immediate relative was, and that makes them subject to the policy. Several hundred students from Singapore are waiting for their visas in order to start school in the United States, Mr. Lavin said.
"It's certainly not creating good will," he added.
In Malaysia, also, several hundred students who have been admitted to American universities, usually with scholarships, have been unable to get to the United States for classes, said Donald McCloud, director of the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange. The State Department-funded organization administers the Fulbright program and encourages Malaysian students to go to the United States for study.
He said a majority of the applicants were ethnic Chinese and are not even Muslims. "They are certainly not terrorist material at all, but they're getting nailed."
In Indonesia, at least 400 students are stranded, unable to go to the United States for the start of this school year, officials said.
One of them, Anies, is a doctoral student in political science at Northern Illinois University who had come home to do some research. He had studied on a Fulbright at the University of Maryland and had received a master's degree.
On July 15, he went to the embassy to apply for renewal of his visa and was interviewed by a consular officer. He was told to return in a month to pick up his visa. But when he went back on Aug. 16, it was not ready. "I'm still waiting," he said.
There is now a backlog of 2,500 visa applicants here, most from businessmen, embassy officials said.
Like Anies, they can check a Web site the embassy here set up to advise them on what is happening. (usembassyjakarta.org/pickup .html) Every day, like today, the message is the same, Anies said: "There are no visas ready to be picked up at this time."
It is encouraging to see that the administration is being cautious about admitting people.
Cry me a river.
Why should we have to worry more about making things easy for others than we worry about our own security?
The folks in the US have had their lives turned upside down and people who come here might have to face a few inconveniences, too. It's all part of the fallout from 9/11.
The Times says that "lives are being disrupted." How many lives were "disrupted" a year ago, tomorrow? How many lives WILL BE "disrupted" in the next attack? The reporters and editors of the Times are cordially invited to bite me.
Now we have to round up all the scumbags that overstay their visa, and deport all of them!
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