New U.S. visa rules halt marriages By Wei Gu
Guyana Chronicle
April 8, 2002

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`It's like my life has been changed. I feel like a prisoner' - Ken Bo, who has postponed his marriage

NEW YORK, (Reuters) - Tightened security after Sept. 11 is tripping up business plans and people's lives in ways that are just beginning to ripple through the U.S. economy.

Washington's crackdown on borders and entry points in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks is an increasing headache for businesses and thousands of foreign workers and students already in the United States, immigration lawyers say.

For example: a venture capital company's plan to fly a Chinese executive to the United States to talk about forming a joint venture was thwarted by a visa refusal, while a graphic designer in New York put off for three years -- and likely ended his romance -- plans to get married back home in China because of new U.S. visa restrictions.

The new stance, aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the United States, is also starting to hurt some of the lawyers, travel agents, hotels and even restaurants that have relied on immigration for some of their income.

``There is just a greater tendency to say 'no' after Sept. 11,'' said Theodore Ruthizer, a partner at the law firm Robinson Silverman Pearce Aronsohn & Berman LLP in New York, who represented the Connecticut-based venture capital company, which he declined to identify. ``I don't think that refusal would have happened a year ago.''

Ruthizer, former president and general counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that as well as being tightened, immigration law is being interpreted in a stricter way so that there is less room for argument.

``More roadblocks are set up by the government, making it harder to travel on legitimate purposes,'' said Ruthizer, who sees thousands of businesses getting hurt, as well as many people.

Among the most prominent of the new regulations has been the requirement for a 20-day background check on men between the ages of 16 and 45 from 26 countries with large Arab and Muslim populations.

``It's problematic -- businessmen from those countries have to be stuck outside the United States for a month,'' said Freddi Weintraub, partner at Fragomen, DelRey, Bernsen & Loewy, the largest immigration law firm in the United States. ``Every day it seems to be another thing needed to be checked.''

The tighter policy has also had an impact on tens of thousands of foreigners from non-Muslim countries, particularly following a new visa restriction introduced on April 1.

Ken Bo, a Chinese national working in New York, was hoping to make it home to Shanghai to marry his girlfriend to whom he waved good-bye two years ago.

But because Bo has changed his visa status several times, from a tourist to student and finally to an H1B working visa, he feared a re-entry visa application would be refused if he applied at the U.S. consulate in Shanghai.

Before April 1, he would have been able to hop across the border to Canada or Mexico and apply for a re-entry visa at U.S. offices there. Because of looser requirements at the borders with those two countries, he would have been allowed to return even if he was refused a visa because he would still have had legal status to live in the United States.

However, under the new rules anyone refused a visa anywhere in the world will be refused re-entry into the United States, with the same tough restrictions in force in Mexico and China, and all places in between.

Thousands of foreigners in the United States are now unwilling to take the risk of a trip home, as denial for a re-entry visa would leave them shut out of a country they have made their home.

Businesses that in one way or another are linked to visa applicants have already noticed the difference.

For instance, Tony Liang in El Paso helps visa applicants travel to the U.S. Consulate in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, and only got six clients on April 1 when the new rules took effect, compared with 10 to 20 on a regular day.

Last year Liang received about $240,000 from 6,000 visa applicants, matching the proceeds from his main business, running a restaurant.

Liang's partner, the local Travelodge hotel City Center, operated by Travelodge Hotels Inc., a unit of Cendant Corp., suffered too. About 30 per cent of the hotel patrons, or 1,000 people a year, are visa shoppers.

City Center manager Mary Perking said she was thinking about learning Mandarin to better serve her Chinese guests. Now it doesn't seem that pressing, she said.

A lawyer in Manhattan's Chinatown who helps people to obtain visas, said that he has suffered from a number of cancellations in recent weeks.

``My clients are dwindling since mid-March because they became really worried about not being able to come back,'' said the lawyer, who declined to be identified.

Bo, the graphic designer, said that as a result of the new regulations he cancelled his appointment to see visa officers in Mexico as it was too risky and has postponed his marriage.

Now he plans to stay put in the United States for another three years, when he may obtain permanent residence status.

``I would be 30 then and don't know whether my girlfriend can wait for me,'' said Bo. ``It's like my life has been changed. I feel like a prisoner.''