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U.S. Averts Visa Concerns

August 11, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — With about 750 foreign athletes, coaches and players facing an unexpected roadblock on their trip home from the XIV Pan Am Games, the U.S. Olympic Committee, in conjunction with two other athletic organizations and the U.S. government, has taken swift action to alleviate the concerns.

The potential crisis was triggered by a directive from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the State Department suspending permission for air passengers to travel to the United States for transit purposes only without a visa. The directive was announced a week ago after many athletes had already arrived in the Dominican Republic and return trips home had been planned. The directive goes into effect today.

Affected were those athletes who had plans to fly to Miami to catch connecting flights home to their respective countries throughout Central and South America. "We felt it was important to develop a solution," said Darryl Seibel, spokesperson for the U.S. delegation, "because the rule impacts travelers going through our country. We wanted to minimize the disruption."

Working with the State Department, the local U.S. Embassy, the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) and COPAN, the local organizing committee, the USOC set up a consular office in the Olympic Village last Thursday so athletes could go through the visa process while maintaining their normal routine.

The process involves paperwork, interviews with U.S. officials, the taking of photographs and payment of a $100 processing fee. That procedure would normally require a trip to the U.S. Embassy.

The USOC also has agreed to pick up the cost of the visas with the hope that PASO and the organizing committees of the countries involved will help defray the expense. On the first day alone, 200 athletes took advantage of the special procedure to get a U.S. visa. Because some athletes had yet to arrive in Santo Domingo, a directive was sent out to U.S. embassies in their countries to expedite, if possible, their visa requests.

Since the new U.S. policy is open-ended, visas being granted to athletes won't expire until after next year's Olympic Games in Athens.

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