The United States will introduce a 20-day waiting period for men from predominately Muslim nations who apply for visas, State Department officials said yesterday.
The new policy is a compromise based on a post-September 11 discussion with the Justice Department, say Foggy Bottom sources.
Starting next week, embassies and consulates in more than 20 Arab and Muslim countries will require that all men ages 16 to 45 wait an additional 20 days while their names are sent to Washington, where the FBI will check the names against its database and other information.
The State Department last month won a battle with Justice to include information from the National Crime Information System in its own system for screening prospective visa applicants. But so far, this information has not been meshed with what is called the Consular Lookout and Support System.
If the FBI doesn’t respond within 20 days, then consular officers may proceed with the visa application. However, men in the targeted age group eventually will have to fill out a detailed questionnaire.
While that questionnaire is only in the draft stages, one official familiar with its development said it would include questions on military service, weapons training, travel to particular countries and whether the applicant has a history of losing passports.
One State Department official described the new policy this way: “Anyone in a Muslim country, where the predominant religion is Islam, who is a male aged 18 to 45, will be given an additional questionnaire.”
Three State Department officials confirmed the list of countries where the new policy will take effect include: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Most of the hijackers responsible for the September 11 terror attacks entered the country on temporary visas. Such visas usually are issued for people to attend school; at other times they are issued for business or personal travel.
However, the State Department and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service often have been unable to track the recipients once the visas have expired.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Oct. 31 that the State Department was reviewing the visa application with a goal to “make sure we remain an open society and let people know they are welcome to come to the United States,” but that the United States should do this “in a way that protects us from people who do not wish us well when they come to the United States.”