IT is very pleasing to see the continuing evolution in the treatment of the Jamaican people by the United States Embassy, with the just-announced introduction of its Kingston Interview Waiver Programme (KIWP), allowing certain qualified applicants to forego the personal interview stage.
Many Jamaicans still have memories of the horrific images of Jamaicans travelling from deep rural areas in the dead of night to line up outside the embassy on Oxford Road in Kingston, to wait long hours and scorching from the broiling sun later, then to be herded in like cattle for an interview. The United States never compelled anyone to subject themselves to that, but they collected vast sums from the droves willing to dish out visa fees over and over again, in often futile hopes of visiting what is the dream destination for most Jamaicans.
That graphic imagery is a far way off from what obtains now which is a relatively stress-free system that allows Jamaicans to retain their dignity and respect, even while meeting the security standards required by America, understandable in light of the 9/11 disaster.
The interview waiver programme is essentially a reintroduction of an old procedure for expediting certain non-immigrant visa renewal but with some additional stipulations, for example, fingerprinting, a phenomenon of the post-9/11 world. So now qualified applicants must appear in person at the US Embassy for initial data intake and fingerprinting, but are not required to remain for an interview with a consular officer.
Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule about who qualifies for the KWIP, one important stipulation being that children who were granted visas up to their 18th birthday must attend in person for an interview after that age. This is obviously based on the fact that they would have been issued the previous visa on the strength of their parents' qualification.
Still, we believe that as the US strives to improve their systems, they may wish to reconsider that provision. Someone who was issued a 10-year visitor's visa at say age 17, would be an adult of 27 when it needs renewal. But that person would have had the opportunity for at least nine years (after age 18) to run off illegally in the States. If they have not done so, it is a reasonable sign that they have no such intentions, and therefore there is no need to clog up the system with them.
In any event, the consular section reserves the right to request that the applicant returns to the embassy for an interview if the information in the application is incomplete, or if there are questions about an applicant's previous use of a visa or future intent.
We don't presume to be in a position to tell the US what is best for Americans, however, we would also like to recommend a practice which the Canadians have adopted, which is to have applicants — whether seeking first-time visas or renewal — send in their particulars and only require an interview if the consular section is not satisfied that the application meets their required standards.
Nevertheless, we believe that the new waiver programme augurs well for how Jamaicans see the United States with which we have such deep and lasting ties.
In the same vein, we commend the British High Commission on its coming presentation of "Essential Visa Information" for Jamaicans who wish to visit the United Kingsom during the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.