Visa changes to have no effect on legitimate travelers to U.S.

Hsieh Kuo-lien,The China Post

Changes to the U.S. visa application process made following the Sept. 11 attacks will have no negative impact on legitimate travelers from Taiwan, a senior official with the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said yesterday.

According to Keith Powell, chief of the AIT’s Travel Services Section, the U.S. government has altered some of its visa procedures in an undertaking to create a safer environment for U.S. residents and visitors to the country. Powell said that previously a visitor to the U.S. was generally granted permission to stay in the country for up to six months, even if they only planned to remain there for a few days. Under the new system, worked out by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), anybody applying for a U.S. visa is required to explain his or her travel plans to an official before being granted permission to stay in the U.S., a visa will then be issued to fit anticipated dates of travel. “It depends on the plans and needs of the traveler. The traveler can still request an extension of the stay in the U.S.,” said Powell. Another alteration to the procedure may affect those who plan to study in the United States. Before the new rules were imposed, a person could travel to the U.S. as a tourist before making a decision to study there.

Should a visitor subsequently decide to pursue studies they could then apply to change their visa status from ‘tourist’ to ‘student’ and immediately enter school. Please see VISA on page

“This is no longer allowed. Generally a student must obtain a student visa outside the U.S. before they will be allowed to begin studying in a U.S. school.” said Powell. Nonetheless, as Powell went on to explain, there are a few exceptions. “For example, if a prospective student knows that he or she intends to study in the U.S., but is uncertain at which school, that person can apply for a tourist visa, which we will annotate to read ‘Prospective Student.’” “When such a person finally decides on the school, he or she can apply to adjust status to student in the U.S., but cannot actually start school until the adjustment is approved.” Although the U.S. government has made such, apparently strict, changes to the visa process, Powell stressed that “The U.S. has always welcomed and continues to welcome legitimate travelers who come to visit, conduct business or study. In 2001, some 250,000 people applied for U.S. visas in Taiwan, of which 98 percent were granted, including more than 15,000 students. In response to rumors that the U.S. government no longer welcomes foreign students, Powell stressed that “There is no quota for students going to the United States. There is no limit to the number of students.” Powell made the remarks at a press briefing, in an effort to clear up the confusion and misunderstanding that came long with the changes introduced over the past few months. As to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) that will come into effect later this year, Powell said that “The entire process (of the SEVIS) has been arranged to better coordinate information sharing among the schools, the State Department and Visa Issuing posts overseas, and the INS.” “I would emphasize that nearly all of the action will take place out of sight of the student and really should have no effect on most students’ educational arrangements.”

When asked whether the new Internet-based tracking system would constitute an infringement of foreign students’s human rights, Powell responded that “The students themselves would not even notice any of these things happening. It just doesn’t affect them.”

Information concerning U.S. visa issuing procedures is available on the Travel Services Section of the AIT’s Web site at