Saudis May Drop 'Visa Express' Process

"Visa express" was the name given in Saudi Arabia to a process used throughout the world which allowed visa applicants to drop off their paperwork with their travel agent, rather than waiting in line at an embassy.

Speculation has grown that several of the Sept. 11 hijackers obtained their visas using this method.

The process of granting visas does not begin at the stage where they are dropped off. Whether an application is dropped off by a relative or friend at a travel agency is also irrelevant to whether the application eventually leads to an interview or acceptance.

As of now, there is no way of knowing which applicants use visa express to hand in their applications because of the similar procedure. It is known that 12 of 15 hijackers were interviewed for their visas, and no definite findings have been made as far as how many used this application method.

There are some reports that the three hijackers who didn't get interviewed used visa express, and the State Department says that it's likely even more of them used this route to attain visas, but at the time there is no way to track this.

The name "visa express" has been dropped since the uproar over it began. This term was apparently only used in Saudi Arabia. However, the process still continues and is being used for the time being, as well as within other countries.  

The embassy in Saudi Arabia is currently considering changing the rules, so that people will no longer be allowed to hand in their visa applications through travel agencies, because of the negative repercussions and publicity.

Consular officials say they continue to believe the process is a sound way to cut down on administrative backlog.