DIPLOMATS SAY CHANGES INCREASE SECURITY FOR EMBASSY AND EASE OF VISA APPLICATIONS

US embassy introduces mail-order visas, ends line-ups

APPLICANTS seeking a US tourist visa in Slovakia will no longer be able to apply in person and receive a visa the same day, the US embassy has announced. As of April 29 applicants will have to send documents, photos, proof of payment and a valid passport by registered mail to the embassy in Bratislava.
Embassy officials said the new postal-only visa would ease the application process in Slovakia, and would save people hours of waiting in line-ups.
"We are implementing the system to help our applicants," said US Ambassador to Slovakia Ronald Weiser, referring to the long lines of visa applicants that presently form outside the American embassy in the early morning, as well as the distance that applicants from the east of the country must now travel to obtain the travel documents. The new system, said Weiser, would "eliminate this waste of time, and eliminate altogether, for some, the need to come to the embassy."

APPLICANTS seeking a US tourist visa in Slovakia will no longer be able to apply in person and receive a visa the same day, the US embassy has announced. As of April 29 applicants will have to send documents, photos, proof of payment and a valid passport by registered mail to the embassy in Bratislava.

Embassy officials said the new postal-only visa would ease the application process in Slovakia, and would save people hours of waiting in line-ups.

"We are implementing the system to help our applicants," said US Ambassador to Slovakia Ronald Weiser, referring to the long lines of visa applicants that presently form outside the American embassy in the early morning, as well as the distance that applicants from the east of the country must now travel to obtain the travel documents. The new system, said Weiser, would "eliminate this waste of time, and eliminate altogether, for some, the need to come to the embassy."

Weiser also attributed the change to more security-conscious US policy following last September's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, saying that long lines outside the embassy were a potential danger both to people waiting and to people inside the embassy.

US Consul Sara Potter said that the embassy would script "a procedure" for applicants who needed a visa quickly, but that the details had not yet been arranged.

Under the new system, problem-free applications will result in a visa being added to the passport and returned to the applicant by registered mail. If the consular office requires more information, the applicant will be contacted by mail and asked to come in for an interview. In either case, applicants will be contacted within two weeks, said Potter.

Weiser and Potter stressed that the change would not affect the granting of visas, and that the evaluation criteria were the same as under the old system. "It's not a change in who gets visas, only a change in procedure," said Potter.

She added: "No one will be refused a visa without being given the opportunity to speak with a consular officer."

The embassy also explained stricter domestic US policy on visa extensions and changing visa types while in the US, changes it said had been launched by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS), which is part of the US Justice Department. Embassies and consulates operate under the US State Department.

In early April, the INS changed the rules for student visas and length of stay under tourist and business visas. Would-be students must now apply for student visas in their country of origin, while before people could apply for student visas while in the US on tourist visas.

According to US press reports, two of the suspected September 11 hijackers had entered the US on tourist visas and later applied for student visas while training at a Florida flight school.

"The reason for these changes is to increase our control over who is coming in, and to increase our awareness of what they intend to do while here," said INS spokesman Bill Strassberger.

"The US embassy in Slovakia encourages Slovak citizens to visit the US," added Weiser.

Visa application materials and instructions will be available at over 300 post offices around Slovakia as well as on the embassy's web site (www.usembassy.sk). The non-refundable application fee, $45 paid in Slovak crowns, can now be paid through a postal money order, or at any Tatra banka branch office.

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