The Bush administration, citing Argentina's financial crisis, has removed that country from the list of countries whose citizens are allowed to visit the United States without visas.

The decision was made by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and confirmed by the State Department, which said the new policy for Argentina would take effect Thursday.

Argentina had been among about 30 countries around the world whose citizens were allowed to come to the United States for tourism or business purposes for 90 days without having to obtain visas.

Those countries are mainly well-off industrialized nations whose citizens are presumed to have no economic reason to over-stay their visits to the United States.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that presumption had to be re-evaluated in the case of Argentina, where many people have been hard-hit by the country's financial crisis.

But he insisted the removal of Argentina from the waiver list was not punitive and that the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires will boost its visa staff to accommodate U.S. travel by Argentines who get visas:

"We are doing everything we can to facilitate all legitimate travel by Argentine citizens," said Mr. Boucher. "Removal of the program is not intended to be punitive against them, or against Argentina. We have taken significant steps to staff-up our embassy in Buenos Aires."

The spokesman said ten consular workers were being sent to Argentina temporarily from other diplomatic posts in the region, and that 13 permanent visa jobs will be added to the U.S. embassy there to handle the additional work.

He also said the United States would consider returning Argentina to the visa-waiver program if circumstances change.

President Bush ordered a review of the visa program after last September's terrorist attacks as part of a general tightening of U.S. immigration policies.

Argentina was among the first participating countries to be reconsidered, along with Portugal, Slovenia, Italy, Belgium and Uruguay. Mr. Boucher said the review of the other five countries is continuing.