As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment, Faleomavaega is on assignment in New Zealand. While in New Zealand, Faleomavaega met with the U.S. Consulate in Auckland to review the progress of the visa pilot program which was established at his request to assist Samoan citizens married to U.S. Nationals.
“As a result of new security measures in a post 9-11 world, Samoans, like many others, had to travel costly distances in order to obtain an in-person interview for visas. This new security requirement also affected Samoan citizens married to U.S. Nationals,” Faleomavaega said.
“To address the concerns of our people, former Chairman Henry Hyde of the House International Relations Committee supported my efforts in asking U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to work out a solution that would not require Samoan citizens married to U.S. Nationals to fly to New Zealand at an approximate cost of over $1,000 for travel and accommodations.”
“The U.S. State Department heard our concerns and in late 2006 instituted a pilot program which now allows for Samoan citizens married to U.S. Nationals to be interviewed in Apia. Samoans from Apia also benefit as a result of this program,” Faleomavaega said.
“The good news is our pilot program is now permanent. In discussions I had yesterday with U.S. Consulate General John Desrocher and Consul Nicholas J. Greanians, over 500 Samoans per year are now being interviewed in Apia.”
“As our people may know, four times a year the U.S. Consulate in Auckland sends an officer to Apia to conduct in-person interviews. Prior to the interviewer’s arrival in Apia, a public announcement is made approximately 30 days in advance informing the public that interviews will be made available. Interviews are made on-line on a first-come, first-serve basis, and slots fill up very quickly.”
“From the outset of this program, I have invited those living in American Samoa who may need assistance to contact my district office for help. My office stands prepared to do whatever it can to help those applying for their visas and appointments since the process requires a computer and must be done on-line.”
“According to my discussions with Consul General Desrocher, each quarter the officer sent to Apia is able to interview approximately 125 people. However, I am pleased to announce that serious efforts are underway to increase the amount of interviews an officer can conduct each quarter.”
“I was pleased to learn in my meeting with the Consulate General that they are pursuing new technologies to speed up the interview process. Right now, because our internet service is slow in Apia or Pago Pago, the interview time takes longer. But with efforts underway to constantly improve our visa program, we may be able to vastly increase the number of our interviews in the very near future.”
“So far, as a result of this program, more than 625 Samoans have been interviewed without having flown to New Zealand. This has been a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars for residents of Samoa and American Samoa and, for this reason, I thank our U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, The Honorable William McCormick for his dedication and commitment and for making our program a high priority of his service.”
“I also thank Consulate General Desrocher and Consul Greanias for their hard work. I also thank their staff working in the U.S. Consulate in Aukland. While on assignment in New Zealand, I had an opportunity to visit our U.S. Consulate and see first-hand how the visa processing works. I can tell you that our Consulate in Auckland, like all other U.S. Consulates around the world, is understaffed making the workload almost impossible for our foreign service officers. Our U.S. Consulate in Auckland is to be commended for the outstanding service it is providing, and I do appreciate the Consulate’s commitment to our people.”
“While in New Zealand, I will also personally be meeting in Wellington with Ambassador McCormick to extend our thanks to him. On Monday, I will meet with The Honorable Winnie Laban, Minister of Pacific Island Affairs; The Honorable David Parker, Minister of Climate Change; and Mr. Huhana Rokx, Chief Executive Officer of the Maori Language Commission,” Faleomavaega said.
“As a guest of the government of New Zealand, I will also attend Waitangi Day at the request of Foreign Minister Winston Peters. Waitangi Day is a celebration of the treaty signed between the Maoris and the British which led to the protection of the Maori lands and culture.”
“During my discussions with these leaders, it is my intent to find ways for us to collaborate together as Pacific Island nations to address climate change. I will be holding a hearing upon my return regarding climate change and vulnerable societies, and I have invited small island nations from our region to brief the Subcommittee.”
“Finally, I am extremely pleased to meet with the Maori Language Commission because I believe there is much we can learn from its success. In fact, I believe it is critical that we adapt some of the knowledge the Maoris have gained as we seek to preserve our Samoan language. This is an issue that I am deeply committed to and I look forward to working with the Governor hopefully to establish a Samoan Language Commission similar to the Maori Language Commission which has made tremendous advancements for the preservation and enhancement of the Maori language.”
“Again, I thank the government of New Zealand for their gracious hospitality and, as always, I thank the people of American Samoa for the outstanding contributions they make to our great nation,” Faleomavaega concluded.