Congressman Faleomavaega announced that on Thursday November 16, 2006 U.S. Ambassador William Paul McCormick called to invite him to the official ceremony to mark the beginning of the U.S. State Department’s pilot program which will allow Samoans applying for U.S. visas to be interviewed in Apia, Samoa rather than Auckland, New Zealand. The ceremony will take place on December 15, 2006 in Apia.
“I am pleased to accept Ambassador McCormick’s invitation and I look forward to working closely with him and our U.S. State Department to make this pilot program a success,” Faleomavaega said. “In order to ensure that the pilot program is a success, I have also written to the Honorable Maura Ann Harty, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, and raised some additional concerns that I am hopeful can be worked out to better assist our people.”
“Some of these concerns include making it possible for U.S. nationals married to Tongans, Koreans, Filipinos, and other foreign nationals to also be able to participate in this program. It is my understanding that as of now the pilot program may only be open to Samoans and U.S. nationals married to Samoans.”
“There are also some concerns regarding passports being taken to New Zealand for a two week period which raises the question about how U.S. nationals will return to American Samoa without a passport and how they will return to Apia to pick up their passports. I am hopeful some allowance would be made for them.”
“I also have concerns about the lack of access our people have to computers making the online application process next to impossible. Also, in the case of denied applicants, I have asked for the Consulate Officer to provide the applicant with detailed information about why he/she was denied and also specific information about how to reapply if pertinent.”
“I also think it is important for us to know what kind of visas will be considered as part of the pilot program. In other words, it is important for us to know if both nonimmigrant and immigrant visas will be offered.”
A full copy of the Congressman’s letter dated November 20, 2006 is included below.
Dear Assistant Secretary Harty:
As a follow-up to our efforts to allow Samoans applying for U.S. visas to be interviewed in Apia, Samoa rather than Auckland, New Zealand, I am writing to thank you for introducing a pilot program at the U.S. Embassy in Apia which will begin in December of this year. Ambassador McCormick and I spoke last Thursday regarding the ceremony that is being held to commemorate this occasion and I am pleased to accept his invitation on behalf of the U.S. State Department to participate.
During our conversation, I also raised some additional concerns that I would like to bring to your attention. One, there is the unanswered question of whether U.S. nationals in American Samoa married to other foreign nationals s like Tongans, Fijians, Koreans, Filipinos, and others will be able to participate in this program. It is my understanding that presently the pilot program will only apply to U.S. nationals in American Samoa married to Samoans from the Independent State of Samoa. If this is the case, I would like to request that if the pilot program is successful that it be extended to U.S. nationals married to other foreign nationals in order to be fair to all U.S. nationals living in American Samoa who, as you know, pledge their allegiance to the United States and fight and die for our freedoms.
Two, the instructions posted on the Embassy’s website currently state that once the application is approved, the applicant’s passport will be taken to New Zealand for about two to three weeks for actual visa processing and stamping (issuance) which means that the applicant would have to return from the Independent State of Samoa to American Samoa without a passport unless he/she decides to wait in Apia until the passport is returned. As you can appreciate, most applicants will not be able to stay in Apia for this length of time so I am hopeful some allowance would be made for them to return to American Samoa without a passport. If applicants are granted special entry permits to return to American Samoa without a passport, a similar allowance should also be granted for them to return to Apia to pick up their passports once the Embassy in New Zealand has processed and returned them.
Three, the pilot program specifies the use of online services in order to complete the application and schedule an appointment. However, due to the lack of income in the Territory, access to the internet is limited making it impossible for most applicants to even download the application much less schedule an appointment. As a case in point, since the announcement of the pilot program, my district office has had about 150 walk-ins and my staff is working full-time to assist applicants in downloading the applications, etc. My office will continue to provide this support to my constituents but, in order to make sure all are properly served, I am hopeful that the State Department will also be able to provide additional resources including paper applications and a desk officer to schedule appointments by phone.
Four, in the case of denied applicants, most will return to my district office for further assistance. In order that I might be able to provide the best service to my constituents, I am hopeful that the Consulate Officer will give detailed explanations as to why an application has been denied and also recommendations for reconsideration if pertinent.
Five, it is unclear at this point what types of visas will be considered as part of the pilot program. It is therefore necessary for the Consular Office to clarify if Apia will interview for nonimmigrant or immigrant visas or both. Such a clarification would also help my district office as it seeks to support the efforts of the U.S. State Department.
Faleomavaega concluded his letter by stating, “Again, I appreciate that the U.S. State Department has agreed to establish a pilot program and I am confident that together we can make this program a success. I look forward to working with you on these remaining details and the people of American Samoa also thank you for your support.”