Foreign consultants must now wait for up to 12 weeks for a U.S. entry visa if not from one of 27 countries on the U.S. Department of State’s visa waiver list, according to Carla Gentile, customer service manager with the State Department’s visa services division.

          Prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, foreign business consultants were often able to obtain visas as quickly as one week before their departure date.

          But increased security has “put new demands on all U.S. agencies,” cautioned Ms. Gentile during a presentation at the World Trade Center Atlanta, June 6.  “They key to obtaining your visa is to plan well ahead of your anticipated departure.”

          Countries under the waiver program, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico and New Zealand, will continue to be able to enter the U.S. without a visa.  But as of October, travelers from those nations will have to present passports to U.S. customs authorities that can be verified by machine, she said.

          Immigration officers also now have the authority to reject a visa and access to the U.S. at points-of-entry.  Ms. Gentile added that biometric identification systems, which identifies individuals using fingerprints or eye scans, for example, are to be introduced at points-of-entry in 2004.

          Some 8.3 million visas for foreign consultants and temporary workers, students, exchange visas and persons seeking medical care were processed in 2002.  Visas for this “non-immigrant” category were approved for 69% of the applicants, Ms. Gentile said.

          She added that visas are generally issued only to non-immigrant applicants who can show strong ties to their home countries and proof that they plan to return home.

          Beginning in August, visa applicants will also have to meet for a personal interview with a consular official in their home country, Ms. Gentile said.

          For more information on the State Department’s visa regulations, including what constitutes a “machine-readable” passport, visit