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Thursday, September 14, 2006

US Embassy To Restart Immigrant Visa Processing

US Embassy To Restart Immigrant Visa Processing
Thursday, September 14, 2006

By Elizabeth Tomei

The US Embassy in Phnom Penh will resume processing immigrant visas for Cambodians seeking to live and work in the US, US Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Maura Harty announced Wednesday.

Since 2002, Cambodians applying for US immigrant visas have had to travel to the US embassy in Bangkok to have them processed. Non-immigrant visas, including tourist and student visas, are currently processed at the Phnom Penh embassy. Officials said immigrant visa processing will begin soon but would not specify a date.

Harty announced the change during a press conference at the embassy. "We intend to resume the processing of immigrant visas...in Phnom Penh so that Cambodian citizens in the future who would like to immigrate to the United States will not have to travel to Thailand to process their visas," Harty said.

Harty said the previous decision to divide services between embassies in Cambodia and Thailand was largely practical: the old Phnom Penh embassy lacked the space and capacity to accommodate the volume of applicants.

Between October 2005 and July 2006, 2,300 immigrant visas were issued to Cambodians in Bangkok, while 2,500 non-immigrant visas were issued in Phnom Penh, said embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle.

The new, larger embassy building next to Wat Phnom has the space and personnel to process all visas in the country, Harty said.

But internal embassy problems have also delayed the start date for processing immigrant visas, officials said.

The embassy recently fired three Cambodian consular employees over issues of visa "malfeasance" following an investigation by diplomatic security officials that began in mid-August and ended several days ago, Daigle said.

"I'm very sad to acknowledge that we recently had to terminate the employment of several of our employees in the consular section," Harry said.

The embassy has "zero tolerance" for any digression from the observation of the rule of law, Harty said. Neither Harty nor Daigle would elaborate on the offenses committed by the employees, or name them.

The embassy will not begin processing immigrant visas until the three vacant positions have been filled and existing consular employees have received additional training, Harty said. Daigle said the embassy has around 570 employees, 500 of whom are Cambodian.

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