Remarks by Charles Bennett, Chief of Consular Section, American Institute in Taiwan Consular Briefing
BG0523E | Date: 2005-11-16
Millions of foreign visitors travel to America each year, and each visitor, whether a tourist, business traveler, student or an immigrant, adds to America's cultural, educational, and economic life. At the same time, the U.S. government has an obligation to protect the safety and security of our country. Balancing these two concerns has led to the policy we call Secure Borders, Open Doors.
Among residents of Taiwan, the United States continues to be a popular destination for tourism, education, and business. In the just completed fiscal year, we processed nearly 200,000 nonimmigrant visas for Taiwan passport holders, an increase of over 5% from the previous year. According to the Institute of International Education, in 2004 Taiwan ranked number six in the world in the number of students studying in the U.S., with over 26,000 students enrolled in U.S. schools. During the one year period from October 1, 2004 to September 30, 2005, AIT issued over 17,500 student and exchange visitor visas.
Despite new visa processing requirements, over the past several years AIT has taken many steps to make the visa application process simpler and less time consuming for the Taiwan traveling public. Today's press briefing is just one way which we hope to provide the Taiwan public clear information concerning the visa application process at AIT. More detailed information on procedures for all categories of visas is available on our website, www.ait.org.tw., the website of our contractor, the Application Processing Center (www.visaagent.com.tw/index_en.htm) and the U.S. Department of State website (www.travel.state.gov.).
New visa application requirements include:
- Electronic scanning of fingerprints for most visa applicants. Electronic fingerprinting of visa applicants forms part of the US-VISIT program. This program requires that all visitors to the U.S. must have a fingerprint scan and digital photo taken when they enter the country. Fingerprints collected during the visa application process at AIT can be compared to fingerprints collected at the port of entry, to ensure that the person to whom a visa was issued is the same person who is seeking entry into the U.S.
- SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) database. All incoming international students must be registered in this database and pay a special fee before they can be issued a visa. This database enables academic institutions to maintain accurate data on foreign students, and to communicate this information to the Departments of State and Homeland Security.
While these changes are necessary to enhance U.S. border security, and to make the U.S. a safer place for legitimate visitors as well as Americans, at AIT we are proud that we have been able to implement several programs which make the visa application process simpler and faster. Some of the programs include:
- A complete Chinese language online visa application system which allows applicants to complete their forms from their personal computers, and then save and modify information up to the time of their visa interview.
- An online visa appointment system which allows each applicant to select a visa interview time which best meets their date and time requirements.
- More thorough online visa information via our website (www.ait.org.tw) and our contractor's website (www.visaagent.com.tw/index_en.htm).
- A secure and efficient courier pass back service for returning passports.
- Special appointment times for students and certain business travelers.
These programs have reduced the wait time for visa appointments to just a few days during most of the year, and in most cases have reduced the amount of time applicants must spend at AIT to under one hour.
To the extent possible, AIT encourages all visa applicants to plan their travel well in advance and review our website before applying for their visas. Applicants should also be aware that:
- The Christmas and Chinese New Year periods are very busy times for nonimmigrant visa applications. AIT encourages all persons planning to visit the U.S. in the coming months to apply for their visas as soon as possible. Students planning to study in the U.S. may apply for visas up to 90 days ahead of their school start date.
- To minimize processing time, AIT encourages all nonimmigrant visa applicants who have appointments for visa interviews to come to AIT at the time on their entrance ticket. Applicants will not be let in before the time on their entrance tickets.
- Applicants under the age of 14 or aged 80 years and over do not have to appear for personal interviews. A relative may drop off their applications without appointment.
- Visa section staff will make all possible accommodations for the elderly, disabled, or other applicants with special needs. These applicants should make appointments for interview through the regular system. When they arrive at AIT they will be given expedited service.
All applicants for nonimmigrant visas should be aware that AIT and the U.S. government take very seriously the crime of selling U.S. visas. AIT investigates all claims of lost or stolen passports containing U.S. visas. If an applicant sells a U.S. visa, that person could be permanently ineligible to ever enter the U.S. again. Furthermore, AIT works with Taiwan law enforcement to identify criminal visa selling activities, which may lead to prosecution in Taiwan. Likewise, all visa applicants are personally responsible for the accuracy of the information contained on the visa application form. If you have a third party complete your application form (such as a travel agent) you should check carefully that the information is accurate and correct.
We also wish to remind Taiwan residents interested in the Diversity Visa program to visit the official web site for this program, www.dvlottery.state.gov. Any other web site that offers online Diversity Visa registration is NOT an official State Department web site, and people use those sites at their own risk. Anyone who receives a letter or email claiming that he/she has won the DV should immediately contact AIT to verify BEFORE paying any fees.