Additional Security Checks on Visa Applications

The Visas Condor program, initiated in January 2002, seeks to identify terrorists by checking a visa applicant's name against various U.S. government databases. Applicants are also required to fill out additional forms and be interviewed, fingerprinted, and subjected to additional identifying measures and background checks. Those affected by the Visas Condor program are predominantly Muslim men between the ages of 16 and 45 who come from any of approximately 26 (mostly Islamic) countries, but the system also applies to countries such as Russia and China. The State Department's goal is eventually to have the Visas Condor process take less than ten business days.

In response to earlier concerns the State Department, in consultation with other federal agencies, had created a Technology Alert List to provide guidance about which areas of science and technology were of particular concern. Applications from individuals with expertise in one of these areas would be sent to Washington for further review, usually by an agency with expertise in that field and perhaps by the FBI or intelligence services. The 16 categories on the list include "chemical and biotechnology engineering," which covers "technologies associated with the development or production of biological and toxin agents, pathogenics, biological weapons research."46 In practice, "technologies" tended to be defined broadly enough to affect life scientists doing a variety of research.

Since January 2002 the Visas Condor security checks and the Technology Alert List reviews have required explicit approval from Washington for each applicant. In the past, at least the Alert List review process permitted consular officers to issue visas if they had not received a negative report from Washington within a certain number of days, but that is no longer the case. The agencies that need to provide clearance are determined by the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs and include the CIA and the FBI, as well as any other agency with a potential interest in the applicant. All applicants must be positively cleared by all the agencies involved in the review. This led to the backlogs and time delays reported in recent months. Consular Affairs officers have reported that in 2002, they conducted 35,000 Visas Condor and about 14,000 other checks. While this represents about a threefold increase in the number of cases referred to Washington, D.C., it is nonetheless a very small percentage of the total number of cases.47

In May 2003, Secretary of State Powell announced additional requirements for those seeking nonimmigrant visas. Except for certain visa categories or for countries where a visa waiver is in effect, as of August 1, 2003 all individuals between the ages of 16 and 60 are required to undergo a personal interview as part of the visa application process.48 Substantial delays and increasing backlogs are anticipated in the visa process, since no additional resources are being allocated to consular officers and no overtime is to be used to handle the additional interviews. Furthermore, a new legislative

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