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No More Visas for the State Department

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
December 29, 2009
National Review

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The mishandling of the would-be airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab's visa is only the latest piece of evidence that the granting of visas should be taken away from the State Department. Doing so would improve our national security—and actually help the State Department itself.

The granting of visas has little to do with State's main function, which is to manage relations with foreign governments. The department's "mission statement" reads as follows:

Advance freedom for the benefit of the American people and the international community by helping to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world composed of well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and act responsibly within the international system.

Needless to say, there's not a word there about "keeping terrorists out of our country," and that is no surprise. Granting visas is a function that most people at State relegate to the margins of their activities. State’s mandarins—foreign service officers or "FSOs"—look down at the consular officials who handle visas. This is considered a third-rate assignment, something young FSOs have to suffer through for a few years at the very start of their careers. It is less a training assignment than a form of hazing. They then escape into "real" State Department work—diplomatic activity, conducted in the regional bureaus of the Department and in our embassies abroad. Relieving State of the need to manage the visa process would remove from it a task for which it has no enthusiasm—and for which its top officials have no expertise.

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