FINE LINE OR HARD LINE? THE TENSION BETWEEN SECURITY AND PUBLIC DIPLOMACY IN VISA POLICY BEFORE AND AFTER 9/11
U.S. visa policy--the challenge of facilitating legitimate travel to the United States while keeping out travelers with harmful intent, and at the same time advancing American interests and policy priorities--is a policy problem without an easy solution, presenting both national security imperatives and public diplomacy opportunities. On the security front, the visa process needs to accurately screen out would-be terrorists and criminals as well as travelers who intend to stay permanently. On the public diplomacy front, the visa process provides the first--and in the case of visa denials, perhaps the only--time many foreigners come into contact with the U.S. government. It must therefore take advantage of this brief window to encourage a favorable and fair impression of the United States, even in cases of visa denials.Since 9/11, as years have passed without another attack, and the United States has suffered the opportunity costs in lost tourism revenue, economic gain, and social capital of a more restrictive visa policy, the tension between security and public diplomacy as competing priorities in visa policy has grown more acute--but more muddled. This thesis seeks to understand the current state of this tension with the goal of making recommendations to manage it. First, it places this tension in historical context with an overview of security and public diplomacy issues in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs. Second, after providing a baseline of the visa policies in place before 9/11, it examines the changes to those policies after the attack, paying particular attention to the ultimately unsuccessful proposal to take visa adjudications out of the Department of State entirely. Next, it looks at the impact of the procedural changes, asking whether they were appropriate and worthwhile. It concludes that post-9/11 visa policy changes made sense in reaction to an unprecedented attack, but that a more balanced, risk management-focused, value-oriented strategy will be ultimately more successful in achieving both security and public diplomacy objectives. It recommends that policymakers focus on technical solutions in visa procedures, keep immigration policy and counterterrorism policy distinct, avoid distracting discussions about uprooting the Bureau of Consular Affairs from the Department of State, treat all stages of the visa process as public diplomacy opportunities, and stay open to innovation.
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