[FOUNTAIN]Simplifying the U.S. visa procedure

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[FOUNTAIN]Simplifying the U.S. visa procedure

Perhaps Ambassador Thomas Hubbard knows more than any other American about the inconvenience Koreans face in acquiring a visa to visit the United States.
He must have thought something should be done as he saw the long line of people in front of the U.S. Embassy in central Seoul every day waiting to have an interview that takes only a few seconds.
Often he mentions the visa issue in his speeches to various Korean groups. And in a breakfast meeting with Korean businessmen sponsored by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry last week, he spoke again about it. He said the embassy is studying an online visa application system as a way to reduce the inconvenience in visa requests.
But after confirming what he meant by an online application system, I thought it would have been better if he had not said the U.S. Embassy was working on a plan, because it cannot solve the major problem that lies at the heart of the visa issuance process. It only demonstrates how complicated and inconvenient the system is. Moreover, keeping such a system could show how superficial and fragile the trust between the U.S. government and Korean people really is.
According to the embassy spokeswoman, the online application system only means that someone seeking a visa can get the necessary forms through the Internet. The embassy already distributes the forms online. What the embassy is “working on,” according to the spokeswoman, is allowing applicants to fill out the forms using a word processor; the forms must now be filled in by hand. The spokeswoman herself agreed that the new system would not be much different from the present one.
It was surprising to me how the embassy could proudly present the plan as a solution.
Millions of Koreans visit the United States each year. They need visas. A new system has been urged for a long time, but the U.S. government has not shown a willingness to change. Rather, it has made things more difficult. The reason is the fear of terrorists.
As William Oberlin, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, testified to Congress, the visa problem hurts feelings in Korea and even reduces the money coming into the country. I recommend that the ambassador try to persuade his government to come up with a solution.

by Wang Hee-soo

The writer is the business news editor of the JoongAng Daily.
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