BEIRUT: Lebanese citizens travelling to the United States will soon have to complete a new electronic application form, the US Embassy announced Wednesday.
The new DS-160 form is filled out entirely online and, as of March 1, will replace all previous non-immigration application processes.
US Vice Consul Andrea McFeely said the form – which is currently used in 85 countries worldwide – was introduced in Lebanon “to increase the efficiency and accuracy of the visa application” process.
“We took all of the complaints and critiques of the old visa-application forms and that’s how we created the DS-160,” McFeely added at the form’s unveiling in Beirut.
Although the US State Department does not issue precise figures of Lebanese visiting America each year, it is thought that 65-70 percent of visa applications are successful.
It has recently drawn ire from officials and religious leaders in Lebanon by placing Lebanese nationals on the list of 14 countries whose travelers now undergo additional security screening at US airports. Many countries on the list have objected to this additional scrutiny.
US Embassy Consul Kirk Smith said the change of application form had been arranged before recent security measures were considered.
“This new form is completely independent of procedures regarding security at the boarding point of airplanes,” he said. “This predates by a very wide margin the events of December 25 last year [when a passenger apprehended by flight attendants on a flight bound for Detroit was found to have explosives in his underwear].
“The procedures in place … are designed to keep the flying public safe. I realize it is inconvenient. I do believe the agents at international and domestic airports that service the US are well-trained, professional and courteous,” Smith said.
The timing of the DS-160’s introduction had been designed to coincide with the quieter winter months, where US visa applications are less numerous than in summer.
McFeely said she was confident that people wishing to travel to the US would not encounter problems accessing or completing the new form.
“This is not new; the old visa-application form was online as well, so we are not predicting any problems with this,” she said. “The Lebanese tend to be very technologically savvy, so it shouldn’t be too hard.”
Smith said the responsibility of filling out the form fully and correctly rested with the applicant. “The applicant has the choice. If they feel they are computer savvy enough, they can complete the form on their own, there is no requirement for them to use a middleman,” he said.
New form features include the ability to save an application as a user goes along – a boon given Lebanon’s roving power cuts – and the facility for families to put multiple people on a single DS-160.
“Families used to come in with 50 pieces of paper. Now they can come in with one piece of paper per person,” said McFeely and added that the DS-160’s trial period had yielded encouraging results.
People who use the online form “are bringing in less paper, there are less mistakes and it seems to be a more efficient process,” she said.
Smith said that the US State Department, in spite of extra security measures at airports, encouraged Lebanese to continue visiting the United States.