U.S. trying to be more welcoming
By Mimi Hall
By Mimi Hall
Foreign tourists, students and business travelers will find it easier to get permission to visit the United States and will be treated more graciously when they arrive, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday.
After months of tough talk about beefing up border security to prevent terrorism, the secretaries acknowledged concerns from businesses, universities and the travel industry that post-9/11 security rules have driven away visitors.
Chertoff said post-9/11 biometric screening systems at land borders have helped nab 970 people with criminal or immigration violations and those systems are being improved to make sure terrorists don't get into the country. At the same time, the government is eager to keep "the welcome mat out for those who want to come from overseas."
He and Rice announced measures to make travel more efficient. They said the government will:
In Brazil, for example, there are only three U.S. consulates where people applying for visas can go to apply and be interviewed. That means people often have to drive hundreds of miles.
Travel groups raised concerns last year when the Homeland Security and State departments said people would need passports instead of driver's licenses to cross the Canadian and Mexican borders. They complained that passports are too expensive and bulky.
Chertoff said the new cards will be "like the kind of driver's license or other simple card identification that almost all of us carry."
Roger Dow of the Travel Industry Association of America said the moves send "the proper signal to our friends around the world that we want them to come visit."