Changes to US Visa system will impact Caymanians

(L) US Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia, poses with US Consul General Mark Seibel during official visit.

Caymanians looking to renew their US Visas may not have to travel to Jamaica to make a formal appearance, according to Mark Seibel, the US Consul General based in Jamaica.

“We recently marked our 10-year anniversary of gathering biometric data for things like fingerprints,” said Seibel. “What this means is that if you meet the requirements, then you don’t have to make an actual trip to an embassy to do an in-person interview or application.”

Seibel says people need to meet two conditions to be eligible to forgo in-person interviews; they must have previously issued a US Visa, and when applying for a renewal, [*] there must be more than 12 months remaining on their existing visa.

Seibel says the new arrangements are in place to help people offset what could be a potentially costly trip to Jamaica or the Bahamas. He noted there is no chance of the consular office in Cayman issuing visas.

“I cannot actually foresee it, if I am actually honest,” said Seibel. “The physical security requirements that now surround the issue of permanently stationing US direct hired Consuls… in a permanent facility abroad are so expensive that there really is no way on a business model to justify that kind of outlay, in a situation where you would have a really small visa market.”

Seibel says just about 1,400 Caymanians apply for US visas each year.

When asked about the potential for those traveling on a Cayman Islands passport to be issued a full ESTA Visa – the type of visa used for those applying on a British or Bermudan passport – Seibel said that was a matter for the US Homeland Security.

He said, “I have not been a party to the deliberations on that, and I am not actually certain what the technical thresholds are.”

Editor’s note: Mark Seibel is based in Jamaica, the previous version of this story incorrectly stated he was based in Cayman.

*CORRECTION: To be eligible for the Interview Waiver Program, the renewal application must be completed no more than 12 months after the expiration of the visa – not 12 months before it expires, as the article stated.  An applicant may also renew by mail before their visa expires.  In all cases, consular officers reserve the right to require an in-person interview after reviewing a mail-in renewal application.  Complete information on non-immigrant visa applications at the US Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, is available at this link.