NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Needs Better Screening of Visa Applicants

November 21, 2001

U.S. immigration needed an overhaul even before September 11. But experts argue Americans won't be made safer from terrorists by drastically limiting the number of Mexican poultry workers or Indian engineering students who come here. Yet that is what some want: imposing harsh limits on legal immigration. What's needed instead is a system that makes it harder for terrorists to enter and live here undetected for years.

We can improve the situation by keeping better track of those who come here and by having more current information on temporary and permanent resident aliens -- 40 percent of whom overstay their visas. But by far the most important reform is tighter screening of those who apply for visas.

  • Temporary visa applications are now processed by inexperienced employees in understaffed embassies and consulates abroad -- often without any attempt to check the background of the applicants.
  • Even after we learned 15 of the 19 September 11 terrorists obtained visas in Saudi Arabia, only two of the 104 Saudis applying for visas in the following month were called in for interviews by the American consulate in Jeddah, where 11 of the hijackers obtained their visas.
  • Some 500,000 student visas are given out every year, many to students from countries that support terrorism.
  • About 22,000 refugees are approved and waiting immediate entry once the White House gives the OK -- including almost 6,000 Somalis, 9,000 Bosnians, 1,300 Afghans 700 Iranians and 400 Iraqis.

It makes sense, experts believe, to hold off on admitting any refugees -- or indeed any immigrants or visitors -- from any countries known to pose a terrorist threat.

Source: Linda Chavez (Center for Equal Opportunity), "Don't Seal the Borders," Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2001.

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