O 062247Z AUG 04
UNCLAS STATE 170771
FROM SECRETARY POWELL TO CHIEFS OF MISSION
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: (A) STATE 161030 (B) STATE 154060 (C) 03 STATE 311479
1. This cable has been cleared by SEP.
2. Many of you have heard me describe "Secure Borders, Open Doors" as one of the most important goals of the Department of State, and of this nation. This phrase describes a vision of an America with robust and effective measures to safeguard national security that is still able to open its doors to the exchange of people, ideas and goods that has helped make this nation great. It is no mistake that the "secure borders" part comes first. We can have no freedom without security.
3. I have previously asked each of you to support your consular sections and make the security and integrity of the visa process a priority, and you have responded. Biometric collection, increased interviews and enhanced security clearance requirements have all added steps to getting a visa, but they are all necessary to meet our legislative mandate and to ensure the integrity of the visa process and the safety of our country. Travel to the United States appears to be on the increase, and we want this trend to continue while ensuring our border security and the high standards of the visa process.
4. While focusing on security, we have also worked to uphold our commitment to the second part of the equation - "Open Doors" -- making sure that they remain open to all of those who do not intend to do us harm and who will abide by our laws. As part of that commitment, the Executive Office of the President has been coordinating a multi-agency effort to examine all aspects of the visa and border security process to ensure that we are doing our best to bring travelers to America in a secure way. This "Nonimmigrant Travel Initiative" (NITI) is looking at streamlining the security advisory opinion (SAO) process, issues related to courtesy and processing at ports of entry, and a range of visa and security policy issues. We are particularly concerned about focusing the SAO process and have made a number of recent changes, which are already resulting in more predictable, quicker processing times. You have also been asked to help CA increase the transparency, or "user friendliness" of the visa process, by posting appointment wait times and other vital data on your internet websites.
5. There are many ways in which you, as Chiefs of Mission, can help. Over the past several weeks, the Department has sent out instructions to your consular sections to ensure that you prioritize students and medical cases and look for new ways to assist the business community. Many of your posts have developed innovative approaches to handling these groups, and I want to reiterate the importance of reporting back to us on your success. We need to do all we can to assist those with medical emergencies, and to process quickly the applications of students and exchange visitors who face program deadlines. I expect you all to have a ready mechanism for expediting visa appointments - when warranted by the particular circumstances. It is also important that we assist the business community, and engage the local American Chamber of Commerce and other relevant business organizations in exploring new ways to attract business and expedite business-related visas.
6. As we go forward, I am asking each post to undertake a detailed self-assessment of your processes and procedures - using recent Department guidance and innovative success stories from your region as a directional resource - in order to help us better manage the visa process. I realize that many of you face difficult personnel and space challenges, and we undertake on our part to continue to do all we can to help meet your staffing needs and provide the infrastructure and support you require.
7. In addition to reporting on your own efforts, please provide any suggestions you have on additional measures that would improve the process. We are working with other interested agencies and private sector stakeholders to explore better ways to communicate with the business community, possibly including a secure website that could be used to verify business travel or company employment. We also intend to establish a dedicated email address and other mechanisms for use in communicating with medical institutions on cases of interest.
8. Public diplomacy will be a big part of this effort. An interagency working group has been meeting for some time on a new approach to welcoming qualified visitors, and presenting our story to the traveling public, particularly in those regions most impacted by post 9/11 changes in visa and border security policy. I am asking for your help in participating actively in further public outreach activities as they are rolled out. In the meantime, please continue your efforts to reach business, academic and other communities.
9. Your consular managers will soon receive instructions concerning metrics to evaluate our success in this new initiative. We will be looking for things like numbers of posts with special programs for students, medical cases and business travelers; and some measure to reflect public outreach activities to international travelers. On our end, we will be looking at continued improvement in SAO processing times, how much additional TDY support we provide to posts, number of new positions added and dollars invested in new or expanded consular facilities. Ultimately, success will be measured in increased numbers of visa applications, more legitimate travelers contributing to America's economy and culture, maintaining the security of the visa process and delivering the highest quality customer service.
10. This initiative recognizes that while we have done an excellent job in strengthening the visa process and ensuring our border security, we must not neglect the other part of the equation - our ability to continue to attract and welcome qualified tourists, students, patients, scientists, and business people to the United States. This is not a tradeoff. I am convinced that we can do both things simultaneously, and I want to enlist your help, your energy and your ideas to ensure that we meet our objective.