State Department Computer Glitch Creates A Visa Nightmare | KUOW News and Information

State Department Computer Glitch Creates A Visa Nightmare

Jun 23, 2015
Originally published on June 23, 2015 5:56 pm

The State Department says it is working around the clock on a computer problem that's having widespread impact on travel into the U.S. The glitch has practically shut down the visa application process.

Of the 50,000 visa applications received every day, only a handful of emergency visas are getting issued.

It's well into cherry season in Washington state, and soon it will be peach and then apple season. Dan Fazio, executive director of the Washington Farm Labor Association, says that between June and November, he expects 12,000 to 15,000 guest workers to come help pick fruit.

But right now, it's not clear when the buses of workers will cross the Mexican border.

"We canceled our crossings of about 250 each" on June 15 and June 22, Fazio says. "We're going to send a large group of 544 on the 29th, and we're chartering the buses right now for that group to move."

But it's not clear the State Department's visa system will be up and running by then. And Fazio worries fruit will simply die on the vine. He says one blueberry farmer in particular is desperate: If he doesn't get his workers, he will lose his crop.

The State Department disclosed the hardware problem last week. It says the system isn't allowing processing of security-related biometric data — including fingerprints — and that is holding up tourists, workers and family members looking to get into the country. Agency spokesman John Kirby says the department has 100 computer experts working hard to try to fix the system.

"They haven't got it fixed yet. We do expect, hopefully, sometime this week, it will get resolved," Kirby says.

In the meantime, the effects from the glitch are being felt around the world.

"We had 12 of our athletes who weren't able to get their visas to securely enter the country," says Peter Dropick, vice president of events for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

So for a championship in South Florida on Saturday, Dropick had to find substitutes among U.S. citizens or other athletes already in the country.

And in West Virginia, John Giroir is still waiting to see if most of the foreign students due in for the prestigious National Youth Science Camp will make it — a week after the monthlong program started.

"Flights were already booked, plans were already made, forms filled out," Giroir says. "But on travel day only two students out of the 17 were able to fly and join us. The others were held back."

Moona Shakil, an immigration attorney in Virginia, says several of her clients are trying to reunite with family and have been in limbo.

"The longer it goes on, the more backlogs are going to get created," she says. "I think the consulates as well will have a difficult time trying to catch up."

And that means that after-effects will linger, even after the problem is fixed.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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The State Department says it is working around the clock on a computer problem that's having a widespread impact on travel into the U.S. The glitch has practically shut down the visa application process. The 50,000 visa applications received daily - only a handful of emergency visas are getting issued. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: It's well into cherry season in Washington state, and soon, it will be peach and then apple season. Dan Fazio is executive director of the Washington Farm Labor Association. He says that between June 1 and November, he expects 12,000 to 15,000 guest workers to come help pick fruit. But right now, it's not clear when the buses of workers will cross the Mexican border.

DAN FAZIO: We canceled our crossings of about 250 each on the 15 and the 22. We're going to send a large group of 544 on the 29, and we're chartering the buses right now for that group to move.

NOGUCHI: But it's not clear the State Department's visa system will be up and running by then. And Fazio worries fruit will simply die on the vine. He says one blueberry farmer in particular is desperate.

FAZIO: If he doesn't get those 250 guest workers, he's going to lose his blueberry crop.

NOGUCHI: The State Department first disclosed the hardware problem last week. It says the system isn't allowing processing of security-related biometric data, including fingerprints. And that is holding up tourists, workers and family members looking to get into the country. Agency spokesman John Kirby says it has 100 computer experts working hard to try to fix the system.

JOHN KIRBY: They haven't got it fixed yet. We do expect, hopefully, sometime this week, it will get resolved.

NOGUCHI: In the meantime, the effects from the glitch are being felt around the world. Take Peter Dropick, a vice president of events for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

PETER DROPICK: We had 12 of our athletes who weren't able to get their visas to securely enter the country.

NOGUCHI: So for a championship in South Florida this Saturday, Dropick had to find substitutes among U.S. citizens or other athletes already in the country. And in West Virginia, John Giroir is still waiting to see if most of the foreign students due in for the prestigious National Youth Science Camp will make it a week after the month-long program started.

JOHN GIROIR: Flights were already booked. Plans were already made, forms filled out. But on travel day, only two students out of the 17 were able to fly and join us. The others were held back.

NOGUCHI: Moona Shakil is an immigration attorney in Virginia. She says several of her clients are trying to reunite with family and have been in limbo.

MOONA SHAKIL: The longer it goes on, the more backlogs are going to get created. I think the consulates as well will have a difficult time trying to catch up.

NOGUCHI: And that means that after-effects will linger, even after the problem is fixed. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.