Secure Borders, Open Doors: Visa Procedures in the Post-September 11 Era
This report offers a comprehensive analysis of post-September 11 reforms to the United States’ visa system, which have substantially altered the administrative elements of the visa issuance process that determines who can travel to and seek entry into the United States. It examines what these changes in policy and procedure entail, and discusses how well they advance the stated goals of the U.S. visa program: Secure Borders, Open Doors. The report concludes by recommending positive-sum solutions for a visa policy that better balances openness with vigilance.
While the basic legislative framework of the visa system—visa categories and the petition process—remains intact, the report finds that the issuance of U.S. visas has become a much more security conscious process since September 11. The report highlights the concurrent overall decrease in visas issued and suggests a possible link between this trend and the addition of various new security check measures. Although the State Department has made great strides to address initial processing delays caused by additional checks and mandatory interviews, authors stress the need for a concerted effort to improve public perceptions abroad about these processes. Meanwhile, the most urgent security concern revealed in the report appears to be the incomplete interfacing of databases and systems across agencies involved in visa policy.
According to the authors, reforms to the system must begin with a comprehensive vision for a visa program that addresses and promotes the totality of U.S. national priorities. Only then can relevant agencies coordinate cooperative efforts to develop effective counterterrorism strategies, improve day-to-day operations at ports of entry, and eliminate duplicative security measures. Greater investments in information technology and training programs for personnel are also called for. Finally, authors suggest that streamlining the visa classification system could improve the adjudication process significantly.