Cablegate: Stateless Applicants and Visa Processing

DE RUEHCHI #0106/01 1631025
R 121025Z JUN 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

CHIANG MAI 00000106 001.2 OF 002

1. SUMMARY. By virtue of Thailand's large stateless population
and Consulate General Chiang Mai's location near the Lao and
Burma borders, visa officers here handle dozens of applications
annually from those without a passport or evidence of
citizenship. This cable discusses the Consulate's experience
with such individuals and how the added dimension of
statelessness impacts consular work. Septel will explore the
political issues surrounding the growing number of stateless
people in Thailand. End Summary.

2. Thailand is home to one of the world's largest populations of
stateless people, with its border regions filled with refugees,
political exiles, migrant workers, and ethnic minorities unable
to secure citizenship in Thailand. Thailand's stateless groups
include both ethnic hill tribes whose families have lived in
Thailand for generations but did not or could not register for
citizenship at birth, as well as more recent arrivals from Burma
and other countries fleeing political or economic instability.
Of the estimated 1-2 million stateless people currently in
Thailand, two relatively small elements regularly seek visas to
the United States through the Consulate: ethnic hill tribe
members wishing to visit relatives who emigrated to the United
States and exiles from Burma headed to meetings with U.S.-based

3. These two groups produce 30-40 NIV applications each year - a
relatively small number, but because of their complexity and the
consular section's small staff, they are an important aspect of
the overall workload. Consular officers must be familiar with
the political issues that cause statelessness and the complex
color-coded system the RTG uses on national ID cards and housing
registration booklets. The color of these documents - presented
by applicants during visa interviews - indicates the level of
citizenship of the holder, and anything other than standard
"ethnic Thai, full citizen" colors can signify restricted
movement outside of a home village or restricted rights in other

Burma Exiles

4. Northern Thailand is home to many leaders in the Burma exile
community. Groups such as the ethnic Karen National Union, human
rights advocates Assistance Association of Political Prisoners,
and non-political Mae Tao medical clinic operate with tacit RTG
approval on Thai territory. Several of these exiles travel for
meetings with the USG, Congress, UN, and other Burma interest
groups, sometimes on short notice. Many are high-profile
recipients of humanitarian awards, such as Mae Tao medical
clinic founder Dr. Cynthia Maung, who media reports often
describe as "Southeast Asia's Mother Theresa." Managing the
sensitive nature of these visas has become an important part of
the consular section's operations.

5. The RTG, wishing to avoid publicity over the existence of so
many activists opposed to the government of a country with which
it shares an 1,800 km-long border, offers some protection to
these groups. But this protection is not always communicated
effectively to local Thai law enforcement officials, who might
detain or arrest those traveling from the border to the
Consulate for their visa interview. In addition, Dr. Cynthia and
many others hold only expired, altered or forged Burmese
passports. These invalid documents are sometimes sufficient
enough to avoid an arrest with local law enforcement in
Thailand, but not enough to escape an ineligibility under
Section 212(a)(7)(B) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act
for their visa applications.

6. In such instances, a consular officer works closely with
other staff and contacts to vet the applicant before
recommending the case for a waiver of inadmissibility. Since the
introduction of the CCD's Admissibility Review Information
Service (ARIS) system last year, officers have noticed a
drastically improved turnaround time for Department of Homeland
Security responses from several weeks under the old system to
two days for the most recent case. Officers have found it
helpful to make sure DHS reviewers also understand the specifics
of the exile situation, explaining why some of DHS's preferred
supporting materials for recommending waivers - such as
background checks from local law enforcement agencies - are not
possible to submit. Following DHS approval for a passport
waiver, post issues the visas along with a letter the traveler
can present to airline and immigration officials at the port of

Hmong Family Reunions

7. With an estimated 250,000 Hmong now living in the United
States, many Hmong Americans frequently invite relatives and
friends living in Thailand to cultural events in Minnesota,

CHIANG MAI 00000106 002.2 OF 002

Wisconsin, California, and elsewhere. Each year, the Consulate
processes hundreds of B1/B2 NIV applications from Hmong
residents of Thailand, the majority of which have Thai
citizenship. However, a smaller number of citizenship-less Hmong
have officially documented residency and are able to acquire
"travel documents" that serve as a passport. An even smaller
number have no legal status - usually either because their birth
was never recorded by the government or because they reside
illegally in Thailand after fleeing Laos. These latter two
groups face a greater challenge to demonstrate significant ties
to a country that has not given them citizenship, especially
when they have family members who are U.S. citizens. Very few
truly stateless Hmong are able to overcome INA Section 214(b),
although the Consulate has issued visas to Hmong with restricted
or limited citizenship status in Thailand.

8. The Hmong community in the U.S. has made a concerted effort
to bring over cultural groups and, with the support of
congressional delegations from states with significant Hmong
populations, has reached out to the Consulate over the past
several years to explain its need for participants from
Thailand. Working with Hmong leaders to better understand their
community, the Consulate has issued visas to applicants who
would be unable to demonstrate ties to their residence with only
their limited RTG-issued documentation. In the past several
years, the Consulate has issued visas to village leaders,
singers, actors, beauty pageant contestants, and soccer teams.
Close monitoring of the applicants' return has shown most
U.S.-based cultural groups to be responsible hosts who help
ensure their guests return to Thailand. Post has detected a few
overstays from these groups, but uses the specifics of each case
to better profile future applicants and detect fraud.

9. COMMENT. Thailand's stateless residents are sure to be a
factor in the Consulate's operations for years to come. With
thousands of Karen refugees from Burma now resettling in the
U.S., we expect their relatives who chose to stay behind - as
well as their ethnic cousins who have lived in Thailand for
generations - will seek to join or visit them in the U.S., just
as Hmong do now. In addition, several more Burmese exiles will
have their now-legitimate passports expire in the next few
years, adding to the pool of those unable to document
citizenship. Given these factors, we expect to see visa
applications from stateless residents of Thailand to grow.

10. While most walk-in applicants with no demonstrable
citizenship pose obvious difficulties for visa issuances under
various INA sections, many applications in fact come with
advance notification and are closely coordinated with
trustworthy organizations in the United States. CG Chiang Mai
faces an uncommon challenge in getting these unusual
applications over initial bureaucratic hurdles to a point where
they can be better adjudicated and ultimately qualified
applicants can travel to the United States, often on business in
the interests of U.S. policy. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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