#Article (Archive)

US Embassy to change visa handling

Feb 2, 2010, 12:43 PM | Article By: Ebrima Sawaneh

In this interview with The Point Newspaper, the Consular Officer at the US Embassy, Michael K Fitzpatrick said come late March 2010, "there is going to be a big change in the handling of visa applications."

According to him, in The Gambia the embassy would introduce what he described as the DS-160 visa application form.

Below we reproduce the interview in verbatim:

The Point: Sir after last December attempted terrorist attack against an American North West Airlines, what are some of the measures vis-a-viz, the issuing of visas to intending travelers to your country?

 Michael:  As of now there has been no formal change in the issuing of visas since the attempted attack. President Obama has ordered a number of reviews, a review of some of the lapses that we have concerning people that are not allowed to fly, and also screening procedures in airports.

I don't know following those reviews whether there will be some kind of change in procedures.  Presently, the only change has been a heightened screening procedure for people flying to the US from 14 different countries around the world. These are countries that have suffered from terrorism themselves, many of them are very important partners to the United States in the fight against terrorism. So, I think they can appreciate the need for heightened screening procedures. However, in terms of applying for visas, there is yet to be any change.

The Point: Specifically what condition/criteria do you look for before issuing a visa to an applicant after the events of the Christmas attempted terror attack?

Michael: As I stated before, it is the same conditions as previous to the attempted attack.  I would like to add that the heightened security measures are an unfortunate necessity in the world that we live in today. Many other countries, many of our partners, have also increased their own screening procedures, independently of the United States of America.

The Point: With this new screening in place, many may consider it as inhuman, as you see the internal part of the human being.

Michael:  Well, US government deeply regret the necessity for this screening, which in reality are not graphic at all in terms of what can be seen. But you have to understand what the alternative might be. This is not just a US problem.  If that plane had gone down over United States on 25th December, there would have been people from at least 20 or 30 countries, perhaps some Gambians that would have died.  So, we regret the need for the procedures now in place, but there are necessities in the world that we live in today. We are always working to try to make these procedures as unobtrusive as possible.

The Point: Critics may argue that with such measures, genuine travelers/visa seekers will be unfairly treated?

Michael: We realised that any change that may be implemented may occasionally affect genuine travelers or visa applicants, that is unfortunate and we strive to keep that to a minimum.  It is part of the global struggle against terrorism and the US is far from the only nation, that’s considering implementing new security measures.  It is the price that has to  be paid for greater security when one needs to travel.  It is unfortunate, but it is a necessity.

The Point: United States has reportedly applied security to 14 countries, including some African countries and by extension those travelers who made stop over at the listed 14 countries. Perhaps others may see this as very harsh, what is your position on this?

Michael: Most of the countries that are on the list have themselves suffered from terrorism, or on the other hand, are state sponsors of terrorism.  We believe that the ten countries on the list which are not state-sponsors of terrorism, which includes Nigeria, will realise that this kind of measure will make everybody safer as a necessary part of the global struggle against terrorism. And I must add that the screening of airline passengers has increased not just in the US, but across the world.  Furthermore, many people travelling to the US from other countries and US citizens themselves who are returning home could very well be subject to increased screening procedures as well.

The Point: In the event that you have issued a visa to an applicant who is later found to be linked with terrorist or terrorism what will be your next step of action?

Michael: Well, we would report any information we may have back to Washington, and then if the evidence against the person was strong enough, we would start the process of revoking their visa.  A revoked visa is no longer valid for travel to the US, and we would if necessary inform the airlines that the person no longer has a valid visa.

The Point: Is there any general statement you may have for visa applicants?

Michael: Well, there is something that I want to mention, there is going to be a big change in the way we handle visa applications. Starting in late March and early April here in The Gambia, we are introducing what we called the DS-160 visa application form. This form is completely filled out and submitted to the embassy on a computer.  Presently, the form is filled out on the computer and then printed out.  With the DS-160, the applicant will upload a photo after filling out the form and submit it to us electronically.  This will cut down on the use of paper and will result in a faster visa process. 

Currently, some applicants such as students have to fill out extra forms at the embassy.  That will no longer be necessary with the DS-160.  The Embassy will be providing more information on the DS-160 as the implementation date approaches, so keep your ears open!