Backlog forces extension in US travel waiver time limit
Due to a global backlog, the US Consul has implemented a new policy to grant travel documents that are valid for five years for non-residents to travel to the United States.
According to US Consul General Robert Settje, the change was implemented a few months ago, “to reduce the workload and bring the backlog down”.
The time period granted prior to the change was three years, with one year waivers granted in several cases.
The US Consulate in Bermuda receives hundreds of application a year at a fee of $160 each. While figures were not available for 2012, 360 applications were filed in 2011.
“There are enough that we set aside one morning each week for waiver cases. It used to be that it took about a week, maybe two weeks to process a waiver case,” said Mr Settje. “But over time here and elsewhere in the world we find that we’re processing more and more waiver cases, so the delay is as much as five or six months instead of one or two weeks.”
He noted that at one point in time waivers were granted for ten year periods before it was reduced to a “maximum of three years with a bias towards doing it for one year”.
He also moved to dispel what he termed the myths about the so-called stoplist, particularly for those who are barred from travelling to the US due to drug convictions for possessing small amounts of cannabis.
Said Mr Settje: “We like to call this a stoplist when for the vast majority of people it is nothing more than a delay list. Very few people are truly prevent from going to the US.
“They may not get to go tomorrow, next month or next year, but most people ultimately will be in a position where they get to travel to the US. That’s one myth that we need to get away from,” he said.
“The second myth, and its related to the first, is that someone who got caught with a few seeds, or a single joint, or whatever it might have been 25 years ago is banned from going to the US forever. It’s simply not true and I don’t know why that myth persists here.”
He went on to say that there are at least ten categories under US Immigration Law where people “can become inadmissible to the US for one reason or another”. Those categories include criminal and drug convictions, medical inadmissibilities, terrorism, human trafficking and others.
Drug and criminal convictions top the list for most applicants in Bermuda, but he stressed that it does not mean waivers are not granted as part of the visa application process.
“The reality is that the Consul, over the past year, has recommended waivers in more than 94 percent of the cases that came before him and he recommends a waiver. So your chances of getting a waiver are very, very high; you simply have to apply for one,” said Mr Settje.
“If you were convicted of possession of a small amount of marijuana two or three months ago, he’s probably not going to recommend a waiver because he wants to be sure you are now following the law.
“But does that mean he won’t ultimately recommend a waiver — no. Down the road he very well may recommend a waiver or his successor may recommend a waiver,” he said.
“The guy with small amount of herb a long time ago, if that is the only thing he has done the chances are very, very good that the Consul will recommend a waiver in that case. And that person will be allowed to travel to the US.
“I can assure you that I have seen waivers recommended on things that are considerably more serious than possession of a little bit of marijuana 25 years ago.
“I have seen waivers recommended in cases involving homicides, sexual assaults, crimes against children, domestic violence as well as drug crimes. These are things that happened many years ago and people have paid their debt to society and they have demonstrated that they are good citizens now.
“And in situations like that, even though they have done something horrible in the past, they can get a waiver,” said Mr Settje.
In part two of this report, Mr Settje, a former SWAT team member and former prosecutor discusses the gun bounty and other anti-gang initiatives undertaken by the new One Bermuda Alliance Government.