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The Nation

U.S. Says Visa Pileup Cleared

September 25, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The State Department said Tuesday it has cleared a backlog of 10,000 visa applications, most from Muslim countries, that were delayed for months by investigations into possible terrorism connections.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said that automation and other improvements in procedures cleared away the pileup, "and we're able to promise a more efficient system from now on."

Arab governments and American businesses and universities had complained about the backlog.

Almost 14% of visa applications from Muslims overseas were slowed down by the security checks.

Would-be immigrants and other visitors from Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries were scrutinized in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Boucher refused to say whether the department engaged in group profiling. But he said one reason for the new security checks system was a judgment by intelligence agencies that "there are people we have to pay more attention to."

Jean Abinader, managing director of the Arab American Institute, questioned why the 10,000 applications were released all at once instead of earlier, when they had been approved.

"Behind every visa application is a student who now has missed starting the semester on time," Abinader said. "Or they have not been able to visit their families, or the United States has lost the opportunity to do business with those who applied for the visas."

Boucher said foreign governments had complained that students who went home for the summer could not get back to the United States for the new school year.

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