Those who have struggled through the arduous visa application process in the past may find it hard to believe, but the U.S. Embassy is now being even "more vigilant" in its review of Russian applicants for non-immigrant visas, especially students, reported Consul General James Warlick. With the help of its worldwide computer database, the consular section is examining more closely the 200-plus applications for non-immigrant visas it receives daily. It is also lengthening interviews and altering the questioning of applicants it suspects pose a security threat. "We're taking a great deal of time to talk to applicants about the activity they have planned in the U.S.," Warlick said. "We're not simply taking their answers. We're pressing them on what they'll be doing and who they'll be meeting with. ... Given the abuse of student visas around the world, we're no longer considering applications for student visas as routine. We're making sure that those who apply intend to study." Most of the suspected hijackers in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks entered the United States legally, including one who had entered with a student visa. Statements coming out of Washington suggest that visa procedures will become increasingly strict. The U.S. State Department has instructed consular offices worldwide to review and strengthen their procedures. Consular offices can now access the FBI's criminal database as a tool for adjudicating visa applications through a provision of the Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law that was signed by U.S. President George W. Bush last month, said Christopher Lamora, a spokesperson for the department's bureau of consular affairs. And the U.S. Congress is considering dozens of bills that would tighten visa-application processes. In the 1999-2000 academic year, 514,723 visas were issued for international students studying in the United States, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Warlick said 1,400 study visas went to Russians, Saint Petersburg Times wrote.
An explosion of household gas occurred in a nine-storeyed apartment building in the city of Shakhty, the Rostov region of Russia. The blast destroyed two storeys of the building