Dhahran, Asharq Al-Awsat – The US Consulate in Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province has revealed that it issues approximately 100 visas per day to Saudi nationals wishing to visit America, whether for study, medical treatment, business or tourism. It added that it had issued a total of 21,000 visas last year, including 6,000 visas to Saudi students or their family members.
Dhahran Consulate officials, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, revealed that the consulate aims to keep up this rate of visa issuance, adding that the US consulate had taken action to speed up visa applications, ensuring that this does not exceed one week. The officials added that the Dhahran Consulate is also utilizing high-speed courier services to dispatch visas to their applicants as soon as possible and not interfere in their travel plans. This comes after Saudi visa applicants have complained about stringent post-9/11 visa procedures.
The Dhahran Consulate also confirmed that the US diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia had issued more than 110,000 visas last year adding that more than 95 percent of visa applications were granted. As for the remaining 5 percent, these were mostly rejected due to a lack of documentation.
For his part, US Consul-General at Dhahran Consulate, Joey Hood, said that “the United States aims to raise the number of visas that it issues annually, particularly to Saudi nationals, who represent an important group, they form a large segment of travelers to the United States, whilst they also represent an important economic factor. In addition to this, Saudi Arabia also sends a large number of students to the US, and the number of Saudi students present in the US for the purposes of educational attainment rivals that of foreign students with Indian nationality.”
He stressed that Saudi Arabia is one of the top five states to send students to study in America, adding that there more than approximately 70,000 Saudi students studying there.
Hood added that in 2010 alone, foreign students had contributed approximately $20 billion to the US economy alone.
As for American nationals in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, Hood revealed that there are approximately 15,000 US citizens based there, most of whom are working for major corporations, particularly Saudi Aramco.
The Consul-General issued these statements during an introductory press conference organized by the US Consulate in Dhahran. The Dhahran’s Consulate’s Deputy Consul and Cultural Attaché also spoke during the press conference. Joey Hood and his family arrived in Dhahran on 11 August, 2012. Prior to assuming his duties as Consul-General, Hood served as Acting Director of the Office of Iranian Affairs at the US State Department. He also served in Riyadh, where he was responsible for coordinating US – Saudi military cooperation. Prior to joining the US Foreign Service, Mr. Hood was a Fulbright scholar in Burkina Faso. He has a Master’s degree from Fletcher School at Tufts University and a Bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College.
Speaking at the press conference, Consul-General Hood told reporters that “the consulate has gotten rid of many of the negativities that occasionally contributed to the delay in the visa application process, including the language factor, hiring staff that excel in speaking Arabic and English in order to facilitate our dealings with visa applicants, especially those who aren’t fluent in English, particularly as it is mandatory for all visa applicants to be interviewed.”
The Dhahran Consul-General also revealed that there was a 60 percent increase in the number of Saudi nationals who visited the US over the past two years. As for the reason for this increase, he attributed this to the fact that US were now issuing 5-year Multiple Entry visas, rather than just 2 years. As for tourist visas, these remained valid for 6 months.