Apparently, there’s a rumor running around Saudi Arabia that Saudi Islamic activists are being blacklisted when it comes to obtaining a US visa. Asharq Alawsat reports that US officials in the Kingdom are working to scotch that story. The US Embassy in Riyadh has responded by holding a press conference to provide accurate information about the visa process.
Each visa applicant, the officials note, is individually interviewed. Visa applicants — like those around the world — must demonstrate that they are not intending to immigrate to the US, unless, of course, they are applying for immigration visas. The officials also point out that a visa is only permission to travel to a US port of entry: it does not guarantee entry. Upon arrival, US Immigration officials make the final determination whether a traveler can actually enter the country. The example of a visitor, traveling on a B-1 Visa, who informs Immigration that he intends to study in the US will be turned back. That traveler should have obtained a Student (F-1) visa.
On the issue of a blacklist… I’m sure the Embassy does not hold one. I’m equally sure, however, that various agencies within the US do. Names of applicants are certainly vetted by security officials before being approved or denied for visas. But, as the Embassy notes, while prior travel to certain countries is not an automatic disqualification, the visa interviewer will inquire about that travel and make a judgment based on the answers provided.
The article also mentions the possibility of extending visitor and business visa validity from the current 5-year period to 10 years. The matter is being discussed in Washington, but approval will depend very much on Saudi reciprocity. Visas tend to be very much a matter of reciprocity (or ‘tit-for-tat’, if you prefer). Everything from the amount charged to obtain a visa to the terms of a visa are mirrored, with variations solely based on domestic law in either country. This is not just a US-Saudi thing; it’s universal, applying to all countries.
US: Saudi Islamist Activists Not Blacklisted
Musaid al Ziani
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—A senior official from the United States’ Embassy in Saudi Arabia has denied the existence of a list of Saudi Islamist activists who are banned from traveling to the US, noting that the previous travel ban was based on confidential information that cannot be disclosed to the public.
Cecilia Khatib, a consul at the US Embassy, said that US privacy laws protecting personal information state that reasons for an individual being banned from travel can only be disclosed to that individual. She added that there is no information about the existence a list.
Ms. Khatib’s statement came in response to information which suggested the existence of lists containing the names of Saudi Islamist activists banned from traveling to the US. She spoke during a press conference held by the US Embassy in the Saudi capital Riyadh, as part of a tour to brief the media about the application procedures in Saudi Arabia to obtain a US visa.
The US Embassy revealed in Riyadh that 92.4 percent of total business and tourism visa applications for Saudis around the world were approved in 2012. Furthermore, it pointed out that more than 70 percent of the visas approved in Riyadh were issued within a week.
According to the information available, the consular section in Riyadh received 80,216 non-immigrant visa applications over the past year, an increase of 22 percent when compared to 2011. Student visas comprised 29 percent of the non-immigrant visa applications in Saudi Arabia.