Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Most Brazilians stifled a yawn when they read or heard about U.S. President Trump’s (in)famous Executive Order barring entry to citizens of seven countries accused of fomenting terrorism abroad. After all, Brazil is not such a country.
This week, a new Order was issued, cancelling the former and setting out less restrictive rules. The new Order will go into effect Monday March 16th.
What most Brazilians have not yet realized is that there is one feature of the Order that will definitely affect them if (when) they want to go to the United States — the Order suspended, for an undefined period, the Visa Interview Waiver Program.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act provides that all applicants for a non-immigrant visa, between the ages of 14 and 79, MUST submit to an in-person interview with a consular official in order to receive their visa, “unless the requirement for such visa is waived”.
Under the Waiver Program, those seeking to renew a non-immigrant visa (think businessmen, tourists, students, entertainers) did not have an interview if their prior visa expired less than twelve months prior to the application. As of next Monday, that benefit has ended.
The practical problem for visa applicants is that because the Waiver Program has been so successful, the four U.S. Consulates in Brazil (Rio, São Paulo, Brasília, and Recife) have not needed much staff to conduct interviews. As of next Monday, the Consulates will be scrambling to find officials to interview applicants.
To be sure, the Order contains a measure designed “to ensure that nonimmigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.” However, the measure will surely take more than a year to implement. In the meantime, Brazilians should prepare themselves for lengthy delays to schedule their interviews, and for lengthy waits outside U.S. Consulates.
The Order will cause tourist and student travel to the United States to decrease markedly, as Brazilians opt for friendlier destinations (such as Europe) where visas are not required. Trump obviously doesn’t care.
Brazil, on the other hand, is trying to make it easier, rather than harder, for foreigners to come here. During the 2016 Olympics, Brazil granted a blanket visa waiver for tourists from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan, and there is a proposal to make this waiver permanent, as increased tourism means generating jobs in a country suffering from catastrophically high unemployment.
The Brazilian Foreign Office opposes this waiver, on the grounds of the lack of reciprocity. Trump’s Order also demands a “review of all nonimmigrant visa … arrangements to ensure they are … truly reciprocal …”
Were Brazil to require true reciprocity, all U.S. citizens seeking to come here for business or pleasure would have to submit to an in-person interview at Brazilian consulates.
The Curmudgeon simply does not believe that Brazilian applicants for renewal of business, tourist and student visas are seeking to enter the United States because they plan to commit acts of terrorism.
He suspects Trump doesn’t believe that either, but he knows that once Trump’s mind is made up, you can never confuse him with facts.