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|Bahamians: U.S. Travel Update|
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|Posted by:||Oct 23rd 2006, 11:55:24 am|
|Fig Tree News Team||New U.S. travel changes coming
By LEDEDRA MARCHE
Senior Freeport News Reporter
The American Embassy is announcing changes to the U.S. visa application process and air and sea travel to the United States for Bahamians and U.S. citizens.
Virginia Sher Ramadan, the new U.S. counsul general to The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, was in Grand Bahama Thursday to explain the new requirement to the media, American citizens residing here and local travel agents.
Beginning November 1, 2006, hand-written nonimmigrant U.S. visa applications will be abolished and Bahamians will be required to apply online first to allow for faster and more efficient processing.
The electronic visa application form must be filled out online and printed. The printed version will have a bar code and must be brought in with the applicant to the U.S. Embassy in New Providence.
"If they do arrive without that visa application filled out and printed off that website, its going to slow their process and they will probably have to leave and go to an internet cafe nearby and print it out," Ramadan warned.
The form can be accessed at http://evisaforms.state.gov/, travel.state.gov or the U.S. embassy website at nassau.usembassy.gov.
At present, the process takes some time to input the data, Ramadan pointed out, adding, however, that the bar code allows the reader to scan the information into the visa management systems.
Anyone over 14 years must be present for an interview with embassy officials in the capital.
Ramadan revealed, however, that providing visa application services to Bahamians in Grand Bahama is not a possibility at this time as the sophisticated software programmes are unavailable.
"We cannot issue any visas without having those programmes available and we cannot set up an office here that will enable us to do that. So unfortunately, you will have to continue to travel to Nassau," she explained.
Also, Ramadan announced that effective January 8, 2007, all American citizens travelling to the United States from The Bahamas are required to have a U.S. passport.
"What we're urging all Americans to do is apply early for those passports," she said.
In fact, Ramadan revealed that U.S. citizens in The Bahamas can have a new passport in their hand in five to 10 business days. Adult passports are good for 10 years.
Facilities and manpower have been beefed up in the United States to allow for speedier processing of the passport applications.
The new consul general is advising Americans to protect themselves and avoid facing any hiccups come January 8.
The embassy does not expect any problems with the new policy because it is getting the word out early.
"It's a good investment to get this document and it will facilitate your travel in and out, immigration officials will be able to identify you quickly, it won't take as much time and the lines won't be as long," she said.
Since the initiative was announced, Ramadan revealed that there has been a 40 percent increase in passport application. Still, only 23 percent of the American population has a passport.
Having toured the international airport and pre-clearance area, Ramadan said she was impressed with The Bahamas' efforts to sensitize travellers on the new Western Hemisphere travel initiative.
"I've been extremely impressed with the amount of notification everywhere about this new initiative. It's important because we don't want any tourism to stop to The Bahamas," she said, adding that she doesn't think it will.
Meanwhile, Ramadan is also urging American citizens to register online so that they can be informed.
"That way you'll know when we're in town," she said, "if we're going to Eleuthera or if we're in another area, you'll know when we're going to be in town so that you can sign up for services. Also, if there is some emergency and Americans will have to be evacuated, we will be able to notify you."
U.S. Embassy officials intend to make routine visits to Grand Bahama every two months.
IMPORTANT CHANGES — Newly appointed U. S. Embassy Consular Chief Virginia Sher Ramadan was in Grand Bahama yesterday to meet with the media, U.S. citizens and local travel agents. The United States Embassy is ensuring that Bahamians and American citizens in The Bahamas are aware of the new travel changes set to be implemented soon. (Photo by JENNY RUSSELL)
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