Lingle wants isle
visa break

The governor plans to ask
for an exemption for Hawaii
from strict new visitor laws

The federal government should make travel to Hawaii easier by carving out a special visa exemption for foreign visitors and students, Gov. Linda Lingle said.

Lingle, in a speech yesterday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village before the Waikiki Improvement Association, called for the state to seek a special "Hawaii-only" exemption to new, stricter visa requirements.

Immigration officials are doing detailed security and background checks on foreigners seeking visas because of the revisions sought by U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials.

Lingle said her office gets daily complaints or pleas for help from business and educational travelers who are having problems getting visas.

"The visa problem in Hawaii is something we have to give a lot of focus to, we need to get more specific and focus on our own state instead of seeing it as a national issue," Lingle said.

Instead of working to make major changes to federal immigration law, Lingle plans to lobby for a special Hawaii exemption when she goes to Washington, D.C., next month.

Lingle told Hawaii tourism industry representatives yesterday that she will propose a special "Hawaii-only" visa.

She said the program will allow people to come here from other countries even if they are not allowed to go on to other parts of the United States.

"They can come to Hawaii, they can end their visit here and then go back to whatever country they came from," Lingle said. "We are hoping if they are just coming to Hawaii there can be a lessening of the visa requirements."

Visas for foreign students and others is a difficult hurdle for foreigners, according to Terry Bigalke, East-West Center dean of education.

The problems range from a three- to six-month wait for visas for men from Islamic countries, to denials for many persons from China wishing to visit here.

"Last year for our Asian-Pacific Leadership program, we invited 10 from China and six were denied," Bigalke said.

"It is quite frustrating, China is an important market for our student programs and our leadership programs," Bigalke said.

Lingle said she plans to bring up the request for changes in the visa program when she meets with Tom Ridge, director of Homeland Security, during a Dec. 10 meeting in Washington.


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