by Terence Baker | February 01, 2004
On Jan. 5, the Department of Homeland Security initiated the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology (US-VISIT) program, requiring all visitors to the United States to be fingerprinted and photographed. This, coming on top of the recent requirement that all visa applicants be interviewed at their country’s U.S. consulate (see Newsline, “New Visa Rules Deter Foreign Attendees,” July 2003), has caused some planners to voice concern.
   For now, only travelers requiring visas will be subject to this process, but by year-end, all foreign visitors will need to be fingerprinted and photographed. Upon leaving the United States, they will have their prints compared with their arrival information.
   The new system could delay attendees from overseas bound for domestic meetings, said Joanna Carson, Esq., business immigration associate at the Washington, D.C.-based American Immigration Lawyers Association. Increased processing times at points of entry could cause attendees to miss flights, she said, and visa delays at consulates in the countries of origin could prevent would-be delegates from reaching the U.S. in the first place.
   “The government does not see a problem, but we think they need to increase funding and staffing at consulates and make sure security checks are not repetitive,” Carson said.
   Sharon Manley, international liaison for Washington, D.C.-based Science Service, expects her association’s affiliate in Pakistan, which plans to send delegates to her annual event in May, to be impacted.
   “I’ve written to all the consulates, including Pakistan, to tell them these attendees are legitimate,” she said.
   Mark Smith, director of government relations for the  American Association of University Professors in Washington, D.C., already has seen fallout in the academic world. “Students from overseas who study in the U.S. and then go abroad are experiencing problems when returning to their universities,” he said.
   Not all planners expect the new program to be a headache, though. “Most of my attendees who had problems did so as a result of their own mistakes, not increased security,” said Mary Beth Krause, director of the New York City-based Modern Language Association.