Report says visa process improved after terrorist attacks

Large workloads and unchecked authority in State Department offices that issue visas may have created vulnerabilities in the system for letting visitors and immigrants into the United States, but the system has been improved, according to a report (GAO-03-132NI) released Monday.

The General Accounting Office said that before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, consular offices around the world "adopted practices that reduced the amount of time for reviewing visa applications" and in some cases could not access the right information in State databases to alert immigration authorities about questionable foreign visitors.

But since Sept. 11, the report said, the government has taken measures to "strengthen the visa process," including bolstering the technology to keep "lookout" lists of potential terrorists routinely updated. GAO recommended that State create clear policies on its visa-issuing process and enhance training of staff to meet those new guidelines.

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