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US: Many have to leave to renew visas
Updated: 2004-06-24 09:51

Thousands of foreigners who work in the United States will have to go to US embassies abroad to be interviewed and fingerprinted when they renew their visas under a new US policy announced on Wednesday.

Previously the people, who include entertainers, athletes, journalists, investors, executives and skilled and unskilled temporary workers, were allowed to renew their visas by mail.

The State Department said it would stop accepting applications for mail renewals of the visas on July 16.

The State Department said the new policy, part of the U.S. effort to tighten border controls after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was to ensure that people applying for visas to the United States are interviewed and fingerprinted.

The State Department said the new requirement will apply to holders of "E," "H," "I," "O," "L," and "P," visas. It will not apply to foreign diplomats or people who work at international organizations like the United Nations.

The U.S. policy of fingerprinting most foreigners who visit the United States has prompted protests from some countries and the new policy on visa renewals could annoy companies who may have to pay for their employees to go abroad to be processed.

U.S. officials said they did not have statistics on how many foreigners work on such visas or how many of their family members live with them but it amounts to hundreds of thousands of people. In fiscal 2001, which ended on Sept. 30, 2001, more than 500,000 such visas were issued, one U.S. official said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the department processed more than 50,000 such renewal applications last year. The vast majority of people who filed those -- all but diplomats and workers at international organizations -- will now have to go abroad for processing, although not to their home countries.

Boucher said those who come to the United States on such visas may stay as long as is determined by Homeland Security officials at their point of entry and, in many cases, indefinitely.

Officials said the person's length of stay is often set for their "duration of status" -- meaning journalists who enter the country on an "I" visa for journalists can stay indefinitely if they continue to work as a journalist.

However, if they wish to leave the United States and the visa that permitted them to enter has expired, they must go to a U.S. Embassy abroad and apply for a new visa to return.

Boucher said there were no plans to create an office in the United States to handle renewals, saying embassies were best placed to do the work. "We want to do interviews. We want to do fingerprints. We're best set up to do that overseas," he said.

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