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Homeland Security Starts Overseeing Visa Process

September 30, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The nation's homeland security officers, on the lookout for terrorists, today will begin to look over the shoulder of State Department officers charged with issuing visas.

A section of the Homeland Security Act, which took effect earlier this year, transferred the review process for issuing visas from the consular affairs office at the State Department to the new Homeland Security Department.

President Bush on Monday signed a memo to carry out the law's visa oversight provision.

"The consular officers, who work for the State Department, will still issue the visas, but they will be reviewed by homeland security to help weed out terrorists and others who should not be issued a visa," Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

"While having every intention of keeping unwanted people out of this country, that's not the primary training of the consular officers like it is for our homeland security agents."

A handful of officers from Homeland Security have already been sent to Saudi Arabia, said Stuart Patt, a spokesman for State's consular affairs bureau.

"That's the first place they went, but they're going to be all over the world," he said. "This is intended to strengthen the visa issuing process and actually help it go more smoothly, because the homeland security officers will be on the scene to ferret out the potential security risks."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) plans a hearing today to review the agreement between State and Homeland Security.

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