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US Welcomes Tourists, but Visitors to Face More Screening


The new heightened terrorism alert comes just as the tourism season begins in the United States. Thousands of visitors come to the United States for pleasure as well as business during the U.S. summer months.

Tourism means welcome revenue for businesses, especially at a time when the American economy is sagging. But people coming to the United States can expect increased security, from the time they apply for a visa - if one is required for them to come to the United States - to when they go sightseeing.

Stuart Patt, spokesman for the U.S. State Department's Consular Affairs Bureau, says he hopes visitors will not be scared away by the increased security measures.

"In general, the United States welcomes visitors from abroad," he stressed. "We always have. We do have intensified visa screening and entry procedures that have gone into place since 9/11 [the 2001 terror attacks]. We hope that doesn't discourage legitimate travelers who want to come and see the United States from coming on their trips."

Jim Michie, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, says officials at entry points are trying to achieve a high level of security without inconveniencing visitors too much.

"We are going to facilitate through the use of technology as well as increased staffing at major ports, including international airports, so that we continue to move passengers as well as freight into and through our ports of entry," explained Mr. Michie. "At the same time we are also maintaining an appropriate level of security based on Alert Level Orange."

Mr. Michie said border checks have been increased, and advises visitors to make sure they have all their documentation, such as passports and visas, in order.

"Anyone visiting the United States from another country can expect increased scrutiny in inspection and examination of their documentation as well as their declarations and what they are bringing into the country in their luggage," he cautioned.

Many of security measures will not be visible. But the National Park Service says security has been tightened at seven major U.S. monuments, including the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and the Washington Monument. Park Service spokesman David Barna says it will be similar to what travelers experience in airports.

"The visitor screening is modeled after airport-type security: magnetometers, hand wands, searching of bags," he said. "All of these seven places are small confined areas that visitors tend to have to stand in line to get into anyway. And so the screening is not interfering with the flow of visitation."

For potential visitors who need a visa, additional measures are in the works. Currently, embassies and consulates have latitude in deciding which visa applicants should be called in for a face-to-face interview. Mr. Patt says plans are being drawn up that will require a personal interview by U.S. consular officials with nearly every applicant.

"As it is now, the individual embassies and consulates can determine whether there are people that can be excused from coming in for interviews," he said. "We are going to be coming up with a uniform policy that will apply worldwide. The result of that will be that in many of our consulates and embassies, there will be an increased number of in-person interviews. By the time it shakes out, it could be probably close to ninety percent of the applicants will be interviewed."

It is not known when the plan will be finalized and put into effect.

That will not apply to citizens of the 27 countries who are not required to have a visa to enter the United States. But, Mr. Patt adds, by October they will be required to have a passport that can be scanned and read by a machine. By October 2004, Mr. Patt says, their passports will have to have some form of what he termed "biometric screening," such as face recognition or fingerprints. Just what form that will take, he says, has yet to be worked out internationally.