Security Concerns Spur Policy Changes
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State have temporarily suspended two programs, the Transit Without Visa program (TWOV) and the International-to-International program, effective August 2. These programs allow foreign passengers to travel through the U.S. in transit to another country without visas, even when a visa is normally required. Officials say the programs were suspended due to intelligence concerning a threat specific to the visa waiver transit programs, as well as additional increased threats of acts targeting the United States. The affected foreign travelers are now required to obtain a temporary visa before entering the United States. During the 60-day suspension, DHS and the State Department will evaluate security risks and seek comments from airline companies and the general public on possible ways to re-implement the programs. The government estimates that the new requirement for in-transit visas will only affect approximately 600,000 travelers because this action does not extend to citizens from the 28 countries with which the U.S. has visa waiver agreements.
Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services data show that TWOV admissions increased by 66 percent from FY2001 to FY2002. Some analysts cite this increase as an indication that the program was being abused. In addition, Department of Justice investigations conducted in 1993 and 2001 indicate that immigration authorities are unable to ensure that these foreign travelers depart the U.S. as required. Airline companies, however, fear that the new requirements may cause some travelers to change their itineraries or cancel their flights altogether.
The Department of State has added two new visa categories, F-3 and M-3, effective August 11. These visa classifications apply to Canadian or Mexican students who commute in order to study part-time or full-time in the U.S. as academic (F-3) or vocational (M-3) students. Prior to the attacks of September 11, these commuter students were admitted to the U.S. as temporary visitors (B-1 and B-2). However, due to heightened security concerns and a concerted effort to classify all visa admissions more accurately, the Department of Homeland Security decided that these students are not eligible for B-1 visas, because their purpose is to attend class, not visit the country. New visa categories were then created under the Border Commuter Student Act of 2002.
Because F3 and M3 visa holders do not reside in the U.S., their spouses and children are not eligible for visas that would grant them temporary residency in the United States. However, F-3 and M-3 visa holders are subject to SEVIS requirements, meaning schools must provide the government with current information on each student's background, studies, and whereabouts. (See February 2003 and August 2003 Policy Beats for more information on SEVIS. See September 2003 Spotlight for more information on foreign students.)
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge on July 29 appointed Prakash Khatri to be the citizenship and immigration ombudsman at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The new ombudsman reports to Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Gordon England, and is responsible for keeping senior DHS management informed of the perspectives on immigration issues held by immigrants and the general public. As established under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Khatri will also provide policy, planning, and program advice regarding immigration services, report annually to the Senate and House Judiciary committees, and offer recommendations to resolve bureaucratic problems. Prior to his appointment, Khatri was manager for immigration and visa processing at the Walt Disney World Company.
The Department of State on August 18 announced a new regulation requiring all diversity visa lottery applicants to submit applications electronically at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov. Applicants for FY 2005 will have 60 days to register for the lottery, from November 1, 2003 to December 30, 2003. The congressionally mandated Diversity Immigrant Visa Program allots 50,000 permanent resident visas annually for individuals from eligible countries. In recent years, approximately six million people have participated in the visa lottery each year. The department is implementing the new procedures to help eliminate multiple applications from the same individual, reduce the costs of paperwork, and ensure notification of each individual that their application has been received. Critics of the new regulation maintain that many potential applicants are at a disadvantage because they do not have internet access. (See November 1, 2002 Policy Beat for more information on Diversity Lottery.)
The Department of Homeland Security on August 7 announced a 12-month extension of the temporary protected status (TPS) of Liberian nationals living in the United States. The extension is effective until October 1, 2004. Prior to that date, conditions in Liberia will be reviewed and an assessment will be made as to whether or not to terminate or re-extend the designation. TPS grants employment authorization and temporary protection from deportation to foreign nationals from countries undergoing or recovering from environmental disasters, civil unrest, or other extraordinary conditions. It is estimated that approximately 2,700 nationals of Liberia (or aliens without nationality who last resided in Liberia) will be affected by the TPS extension.