Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that in a letter dated December 8, 2006 Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs, Jeffrey T. Berger, responded on behalf of the U.S. Department of State to Faleomavaega’s letter requesting assistance and clarification regarding the new visa pilot program allowing Samoans and eligible foreign nationals to interview for nonimmigrant visas in Apia, Samoa rather than Auckland, New Zealand.
Faleomavaega wrote the Department of State on November 20, 2006 and raised concerns about (1) eligibility for third-party foreign nationals, (2) returning residents to American Samoa while awaiting visa issuance, (3) lack of resources and inaccessibility of computers for submission of online applications, 4) denial notice and appeals and 5) clarification regarding what types of visa(s) will be issued.
“I am pleased to announce that prior to the embarkation of the program this week, December 11-15, 2006, the Department of State has cleared up some of these issues,” Faleomavaega said. “For example, the Department of State has confirmed that foreign nationals married to U.S. Citizens or U.S. Nationals and permanent residents of American Samoa who can prove strong social and economic ties may be eligible to apply for nonimmigrant visas in Apia.”
“The Department of State has also confirmed that, due to the lack of resources and the complexity in processing immigrant visas, the U.S. Embassy in Apia will be only interviewing applicants who are applying for nonimmigrant visas limited to student, short term business and tourist visas.”
“Regarding passports, applicants who reside in American Samoa will be able to return with their passports but must send their passports by mail to the U.S. Consulate General in New Zealand with a prepaid return envelope. The visa will be issued and processed in New Zealand and will be returned to the applicant.”
“Finally, it is important to note that the pilot program is only for the week of December 11-15, although the Department of State website for scheduling the interview appointments allowed for future dates in December. Due to committed resources of the U.S. Consulate General, the Embassy will not able to extend the current schedule for interviews. The next visit for interviews in Apia is scheduled for sometime in March 2007 but no specific dates have been confirmed by the Consulate General in Auckland at this time.”
“For now, we remain hopeful that this pilot program will be successful and eventually become permanent,” Faleomavaega said. “To this end, I thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill for supporting the program and I look forward to meeting with Ambassador McCormick tomorrow and participating in the official ceremonies marking the beginning of our joint and historic efforts to simplify the visa process for those residing in Samoa and American Samoa.”
A complete copy of the Department of State’s letter is included below:
Dear Mr. Faleomavaega:
Thank you for your letter of November 20 regarding the new limited visa outreach service planned at the U.S. Embassy in Apia. We appreciate very much your past support for this program, and we are pleased it is coming to fruition on December 11, 2006. The Department of State recognizes the importance of this issue for Samoans in general. We are establishing this program to provide enhanced service for citizens and long-term, permanent residents of the Independent State of Samoa. Although citizens of other nationalities resident in American Samoa may apply for visas in Apia, limitations on the categories of visas processed in this program, and the relatively small numbers who can be interviewed, suggest this program will not fully meet demand in your constituency.
As detailed in public announcements by our Embassy in Apia and Consulate General in Auckland, only student (F), short term business (B1) and tourist (B2) non-immigrant visas will be processed in Apia during quarterly visits by a consular officer from Auckland. To qualify, applicants will have to demonstrate that they intend to return to Samoa after a short visit or course of study in the United States. Immigrant and fiancée visas will not be processed in Apia. These visa categories are more complicated and would require more resources than are available. We estimate about 500 non-immigrant visas will be processed annually in Samoa during the visits by a consular officer from Auckland. The Consulate General in Auckland, where most Samoans have applied for visas, estimates that the number of applications from Samoans resident in Samoa is about 2,000 per year. It thus appears that many Samoans will continue to travel to Auckland for non-immigrant visa interviews.
As noted earlier, visa service in Apia will be established to strengthen our relationship with the Government of Samoa. As with the visa interview process in general, the procedures described on the Embassy website were developed primarily with the residents of the Independent State of Samoa in mind. Residents of American Samoa who are interviewed in Apia, may return to American Samoa and send their passports by courier service from there to the Consulate General in Auckland, enclosing a prepaid courier return envelope. We will add this service option to the public information on the Embassy website. The passport, with the U.S. non-immigrant visa placed in it, will then be returned to the applicant. This procedure will allow your constituents to retain their passports for return to American Samoa while also participating in the visa outreach in Apia.
Applicants for U.S. non-immigrants visas worldwide are required to fill in the on-line “Electronic Visa Application Form,” which contains a barcode used to secure the interview appointment and later process the case to completion. Paper applications cannot be used. Applicants in Samoa will be able to obtain general visa information and make visa interview appointments free of charge via an on-line system. We have worked diligently to make the instructions as straightforward as possible, including translating both the application instruction sheet and the two principal non-immigrant forms (the DS-156 and the DS-157) into Samoan.
The visiting consular officer from Auckland will provide unsuccessful visa applicants with an explanation of the legal grounds for refusal. The Embassy in Apia will provide a Samoan language translator for the interviews, a service that should minimize misunderstandings when a non-immigrant visa cannot be issued. In most cases, applicants for non-immigrant visas are unsuccessful if they are unable to demonstrate they have strong social and economic ties in their home countries. Through on-line visa information, we try to provide the best possible guidance for applicants in preparing for their interview. Since interviews will be done in Apia only once per quarter, opportunities for reconsideration will be limited.
We hope this information is helpful in addressing your concerns. Please feel free to contact us further on this or any other matter of concern.