Furthering the delays people might experience while traveling, new visa regulations have been implemented by the U.S. State Department and by other countries. What does this mean to the meeting professional?
Key concerns for those who invite international guests to programs in the United States are new visa and other requirements. The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department have changed the rules. With the continuing array of warnings based upon Homeland Security advisories, it is important for organizations to let potential attendees know what those rules are.
Under the new U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology (or US-VISIT) program, certain travelers from abroad now are required to be fingerprinted and photographed if they need a visa to enter the United States. While this is said by the DHS to take no more than a minute, it has upset many visitors.
Planners can help those who need visas by directing them to the State Department’s visa website, www.UnitedStatesVisas.gov, where the process is outlined.
With these changes, obtaining proper entry documents takes longer, so advise attendees to start the process much earlier. Expect it to take at least six months to be granted a visa.
Planners also should alert attendees about unscrupulous practices by a few visa service companies. Some third parties are charging exorbitant prices for services that are offered free of charge from the State Department.
Under a waiver program, there are 21 countries whose citizens are not required to have a visa, but they do need to have a a machine-readable passport, or MRP. A list of those countries and information on MRPs are available at travel.state.gov/vwp.html.
Those eligible to enter the States without a visa must present a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the end of their visit to the country, along with a statement that they will not be in the United States for more than 90 days. Additionally, the visitor might be asked to show a roundtrip ticket and complete other forms.
Anyone who previously has been denied a visa can be assured they will not easily qualify for a new one.
The State Department, via its website (www.state.gov), provides up-to-date information on various destinations, including details that are provided to State Department employees being stationed in those locations. If you have a program outside the U.S., you might want to let your attendees know how to obtain such information.
Also, some countries, in response to the restrictive approach taken by the U.S., now require visas and impose other limitations on travel by American citizens. Again, consulting the State Department website as well as the website of the destination country is extremely important. Then provide any pertinent information on visa requirements to potential attendees in preliminary registration materials and other early communications.
In order to make attendees’ travel as easy as possible, remind them to leave copies of their passport with someone at home. Additionally, they should stash a copy in a bag other than the one in which they keep the original. Note: Those traveling outside the States might be required to have a passport that is valid at least six months beyond the end of the trip, depending on the destination.
All in all, in this age of heightened security awareness for travelers, we need to understand the reasons for the new measures and, basically, put up with them.