Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that on March 23, 2004 he wrote to the U.S. Secretary of State regarding the visa application process for citizens from the Independent State of Samoa. The Honorable Henry Hyde, Chairman of the International Relations Committee, Ranking Member Tom Lantos, and Chairman James Leach of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific joined with Congressman Faleomavaega in signing the letter to Secretary Powell.
“At the request of the Independent State of Samoa and to assist U.S. Nationals who are married to citizens from the Independent State of Samoa, I asked my colleagues on the International Relations Committee to join with me in writing to the U.S. Secretary of State to raise continued awareness regarding new visa policies which negatively impact my constituents,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“In response to my request, Chairman Hyde and Ranking Member Lantos of the full committee and Chairman Leach, my counterpart on the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, agreed to support my request for U.S. State Department intervention. As a result of our letter dated March 23, 2004, the State Department has agreed to make positive recommendations to the Department of Homeland Security.”
“In our letter, we explained that approximately 15,000 U.S. Nationals living in American Samoa are married to citizens from the Independent State of Samoa. While U.S. Nationals enjoy the unlimited right to travel to and from the United States, their spouses do not.”
“Spouses from the Independent State of Samoa are burdened with a 1,797 mile, 3 hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand to submit a visa application in person despite the fact that there is a U.S. embassy in Apia, Samoa. Airfare to Auckland, New Zealand averages over $1,000 roundtrip. Considering the per capita income in American Samoa is less than $4,500 per year and air service in and out of the Territory is only available on Fridays and Mondays, it is financially and logistically infeasible for the spouses and family members of U.S. Nationals to travel to New Zealand to fulfill the requirement of the visa application process.”
“While we noted that it is not our intent to circumvent the visa process for citizens from the Independent State of Samoa, we requested that consideration be given to these individuals who find themselves penalized because of their location. We also requested a staff level meeting with the appropriate officials at the Department so that we might expeditiously resolve this matter.”
“On May 5, 2004, a meeting was held in my Congressional office and the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Visas as well as the Director of Management Analysis attended. In the meeting, the State Department explained that this matter is more complicated than just an interview. New federal laws, which apply to citizens from all countries, including the Independent State of Samoa, will require a visa applicant to be photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed. Interviews must be conducted in a secure environment and biometric fingerprinting requires the use of sophisticated equipment that logs information into a database in Washington,” the Congressman said.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. Embassy in Apia does not have the equipment to do biometric fingerprinting and, at this time, the interview has to be conducted at the same location where the fingerprinting and photo identification take place, for security purposes. If, at a later date, the State Department has access to equipment that is easily transportable, then we may review this situation again for Samoans.”
“For now, however, we have reached a working solution. In a letter dated August 3, 2004 and received in my office on August 23, 2004, the State Department has informed me that it plans to recommend to the Department of Homeland Security that the standard validity period of visas issued to Samoans increase from 60 to 120 months. If the Department of Homeland Security agrees, this means that Samoans will only have to fly to New Zealand or Fiji once every ten years rather than once every five years.”
“I am pleased by this outcome and I am appreciative of the State Department’s support in this matter. I am also supportive of our nation’s desire to secure our borders and protect our homeland and I will continue working with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. State Department to make sure that the concerns of Samoans are considered throughout this process,” the Congressman concluded.