Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- The American Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has denied claims that the consular department of the embassy had requested that Saudi female visa applicants remove their hijabs (headscarves) or provide photos of themselves without their hijabs in order to complete the process to obtain visas for the US.
A spokeswoman for the US embassy told Asharq Al Awsat that there is “no truth” in this information, stating that the consular department abides by the embassy’s rule that photographs show the hairline and ears but do not request a removal of the hijab.
A number of female students who intended to study in America had complained that they were asked to provide photographs of themselves without their hijabs. One girl stated that she found herself in a similar situation at an airport where immigration officials had requested that she remove her headscarf.
Ali Debis told Asharq Al Awsat that an official from the consular department asked his wife to provide photographs that revealed her hair and neck in order to obtain her student visa for the US.
However, Melissa Ford from the media department of the US embassy in Riyadh rejected the claims, asserting that there has been no change in the procedure regarding photos. Ford told Asharq Al Awsat that the embassy requests that photographs of visa applicants must show the entire face, the hairline and the ears and that the embassy does not require female applicants to reveal their hair in these photos.
The American government has made a number of amendments to the laws that regulate the entrance of foreigners and has taken precautionary security measures following the events of 9/11.
According to the website for the US Embassy in Riyadh, American consulates are responsible for carrying out security checks concerning the visa requests that they receive (they also carry out particular security inquiries that are required by law for some visa applicants, which may cause a delay in the procedure).
The total number of American visas granted to Saudis in 2006 was 25,532, less than half of the number issued in 2001 that reached 60,000. In 2006, 11,000 visas were issued to Saudi students in comparison to 4539 in 2001.