AILA Press Release: Visa Restrictions and Backlogs Create Unprecedented Problems


Contact: Julia Hendrix
(202) 216-2404

November 21, 2003

Visa Restrictions and Backlogs Create Unprecedented Problems

During the holiday season, many immigrants in the United States will be unable to travel or have family members visit. This seasonal problem is a reflection of the problems faced year-round by families and business: visa policies and backlogs have made international travel and commerce a nightmare.

The House Small Business Committee, chaired by Representative Donald Manzullo (R-IL), held a hearing yesterday ("Lowering the Cost of Doing Business in the United States: How to Keep Our Companies Here") that focused on the negative consequences for American business of the numerous visa restrictions implemented since 9/11. These restrictions act as a trade barrier, discourage foreign visitors coming to the U.S., have negative consequences for American companies, and do not make us safer.

Testifying at this hearing, Palma Yanni, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), focused on the monumental delays at both U.S. consulates abroad and at the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as the delays that result when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other agencies that screen foreign visitors do not send back security checks in a timely manner. "We need to make sure we keep out the people who mean to do us harm, not families who seek reunification, workers sought by American companies, and foreign visitors who eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and buy American products," said Yanni.

"We all want to make our nation safer, but we need to use measures that enhance our security, not those that provide false solutions to real problems," said Yanni. "Security experts tell us we can enhance our security by focusing our law enforcement efforts on investigation and surveillance based on individual suspicion, not over-reaching, time-consuming checks on every person who seeks to enter the United States. We must ensure our economic security, or we will be unable to pay for our national security," emphasized Yanni.

Family members, business people, artists, doctors, students, researchers, and tourists are just a few of the foreign visitors who are finding the welcome mat withdrawn. "The current restrictions and backlogs have become an emergency. Businesses are suffering economic losses because visas are delayed for months and in many cases, denied," continued Yanni. "Moreover, immigrants living in the U.S. find it all but impossible to travel to other countries because of tremendous delays in the issuance of travel documents."

"There seems to be a 'culture of no' that pervades the visa adjudication procedure. It appears easier to delay or deny a visa than to approve it. Federal agencies need to learn how to say 'yes'," said Yanni. In fact, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of visas issued since 2001 for all visitors to the United States, from 6.9 million to 4.9 million. Visa applications have decreased 15% from 2002 to 2003. In addition, newly mandated procedures that many assert will not make us safer also have slowed the application process: the State Department Consular officers now are required to conduct face-to-face interviews with visa applicants, without receiving additional resources; beginning early next year, under the US VISIT program, our government will begin fingerprinting travelers with visas, again without adequate funding and with insufficient planning; and unless waived, in October 2004, visitors from visa waiver countries will be required to have machine-readable passports, when the U.S. itself is unable to comply with that deadline.

"We all want a safer nation. However, when a renowned physician's visa application is delayed or denied, we are not a safer nation," stated Yanni. "When families remain separated, we are not safer. When businesses cannot access foreign markets because of bureaucratic backlogs, we are not a safer nation either. We need an immigration system that works, one that works for businesses and for families," concluded Yanni.

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Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services. AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association.

American Immigration Lawyers Association
918 F Street NW, Washington, DC, 20004-1400
Phone (202) 216-2400; Fax (202) 783-7853

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Cite as AILA Doc. No. 03112116.