16 January 2003

Visitors from Five More Nations Subject to Registration Requirements

U.S. immigration authorities also reopen registration period

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington — U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is requiring nonimmigrant, male visitors from five more nations to register with immigration authorities while they are in the United States. With the addition of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait, certain citizens from 25 nations are now subject to the requirements of the National Entry-Exit Registration Program (NSEERS), according to a notice published in the Federal Register January 16.

NSEERS requires that nonimmigrant male visitors 16 years and older appear at their local office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to answer questions, present travel documents and offer information about residence or school enrollment. The alien visitors will also be fingerprinted and photographed.

"In light of recent events, and based on intelligence information available to the Attorney General, the Attorney General has determined" that nonimmigrant visitors from the five newly designated countries "must appear before the (INS) and provide certain information," the announcement in the Federal Register stated.

Male citizens from Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Kuwait are directed to report to the INS between February 24 and March 28, according to the announcement.

Those five nations make up the fourth group of aliens designated by the Attorney General to comply with the tightened visitor registration requirements. Male visitors over 16 from Iran, Iraq Libya, Sudan and Syria — all nations cited as state sponsors of terrorism by the U.S. State Department — were directed to report to INS offices by December 18. Males from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen were supposed to meet a January 10 deadline. Nonimmigrant male visitors from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are required to report to the INS by February 21.

The NSEERS program has generated significant confusion and opposition in U.S. immigrant communities. Opponents point out that citizens from Arab and predominantly Muslim countries are being subject to the requirements, and allege that such a program is racially, ethnically or politically motivated. A coalition of community and immigrant advocate organizations filed a lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft and the INS in December to block NSEERS.

Press reports from around the country also indicate that confusion about the requirements of the program may have hampered full compliance. The Department of Justice and the INS published a second notice in the Federal Register January 16 which reopens the registration to accommodate nonimmigrant aliens from the 18 nations who may have missed the deadlines.

Some individuals may have "remained unaware of the requirements of the notices," the announcement said.

"As an act of grace, and as an act that is entirely within the Attorney General's discretion, the Attorney General has decided to permit those individuals who were required to register under the Groups I and II notices but who did not do so, an additional opportunity to register and provide information," the announcement said.

Registration for these nonimmigrant visitors will be reopened from January 27 to February 7. Those who report to their INS offices during this grace period for registration will be considered to have acted "in a timely fashion," according to the announcement.

The history of NSEERS dates back to the mid-1990s. Congress directed the INS to develop by 2005 a better system for keeping track of visitors entering the country. That directive arose from the recognition that officials had inadequate mechanisms to determine where visitors were going, where they were staying and how long they were staying in the country. The urgency to develop such a system accelerated after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the discovery that some of the attackers entered the country on valid visas, but subsequently violated the terms of their visas.

In announcing NSEERS in June, Ashcroft said it is necessary because of "vulnerabilities of our immigration system [that] became starkly clear on September 11."

Visitors from these 25 countries are not the only ones who have been subject to the scrutiny called for under NSEERS. Visitors from other countries have been required to provide like information as immigration authorities apply "discretionary criteria" to individuals entering the country at all international ports of entry.

INS and Justice Department officials emphasize that the policy is meant to create a balance between protecting the security of the United States and maintaining a longstanding policy of openness to international visitors.

"It is important to emphasize that the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System is not a bar to entry into the United States, nor does it limit an individual's ability to engage in any lawful activity as permitted under their entry visa," according to explanatory material on the INS Web site.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Front Page | News | Oil and Gas | Media Guide | Audio/Video | TV & Radio | Newsfeeds | Film