Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the U.S. State Department has agreed to his request to allow Samoans applying for U.S. visas to be interviewed in Apia rather than Auckland, New Zealand. According to the U.S. State Department, a pilot program will be put in place next month wherein an interviewer will be sent from the U.S. Consulate in New Zealand to Apia to conduct interviews for Samoans applying for U.S. visas.
“It is anticipated that an official ceremony to mark the beginning of the pilot program will be held in Apia during the week of December 11th and U.S. Ambassador William P. McCormick is expected to attend,” Faleomavaega said. “I have also been asked to participate and I look forward to meeting with Ambassador McCormick on this occasion.”
“While these announcements have already been made by our U.S. Embassy in Apia, I am pleased by these developments and I thank U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her support especially in making this pilot program possible. I also thank Chairman Henry Hyde and Ranking Member Tom Lantos of the House International Relations Committee for supporting my efforts since 2003 to ease restrictions which have forced Samoans to travel to New Zealand to apply for a U.S. visa.”
“In 2003, I called upon Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Ann Harty to allow our U.S. Embassy in Samoa to conduct personal interviews in Apia rather than Auckland. In 2004, Chairman Hyde and Ranking Member Tom Lantos joined with me in calling upon U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to take action.”
“After two years of meetings, briefings, and promises, Secretary Rice assured us that she would get the job done and I am thankful that she has done so by authorizing the establishment of this pilot program. I also recall three years ago that Prime Minister Tuilaepa of Samoa brought this matter to my attention and I want to thank him for being patient as we have tried to resolve this problem with U.S. State Department officials.”
Today, John Brennan, Director of Office Support and Liaison in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, said, “This pilot program is one possible way forward to solve the problem that Congressman Faleomavaega brought to our attention but there also may be other ways forward and we look forward to working with the Congressman to make these changes more permanent.”
“One further difficulty I see,” Faleomavaega said, “is that Samoans don’t have easy access to computers to download the application forms. For U.S. nationals living in American Samoa married to Samoans, I want to invite them to my office where my staff will assist them with downloading the forms. For those in Samoa, I am hopeful that the U.S. State Department will provide the same assistance at our U.S. Embassy in Apia.”
“At this time, however, I am pleased that we have reached a working solution which will put a temporary stop to the policy which now requires applicants to travel from Apia to New Zealand. As I said in previous letters to Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice, this policy unfairly penalized our people. 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 twice a week, it is financially and logistically infeasible for our people to travel to New Zealand at a cost of over $1,000 per roundtrip ticket to fulfill the requirement of the visa application process.”
“This is why the recent news that a temporary pilot program is now being put in place is welcome news and this is why I remain committed to working out more permanent solutions,” Faleomavaega concluded.