Visa Express

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The Visa Express program was a U.S. State Department program that allowed residents of Saudi Arabia to enter the U.S. without proving their identities. It became controversial when some of the 9/11 hijackers used this program to gain entry into the country, and the program was eventually shut down.

In the spring and summer of 2001, the terror level in the U.S. was reportedly "off the charts". The U.S. had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities of al-Qaeda members.[1]

Despite all this, the U.S. introduced the Visa Express program in May 2001. This program allowed Saudi Arabian residents, including non-citizens, to get valid visas through a travel agency using a much less restrictive standard than would have otherwise been required. They did not have to submit a proof of identity, but only had to provide a photograph and fill out a short form. A senior State Department official described the program as "an open-door policy for terrorists." No other country had this system to facilitate easy entry into the country.[2]

September 11 hijackers and resultant cancellation[edit]

Some of the 9/11 hijackers may have used this method to gain entry in the U.S., including Abdulaziz al-Omari, Salem al-Hazmi, Saeed al-Ghamdi, and Fayez Banihammad. It is unclear whether these people would have been able to gain entry without this program. After considerable controversy, the State Department cancelled the program on July 19, 2002, and the head of the Visa Express program, Mary Ryan, was forced to retire.[3]


  1. ^ [1][dead link]
  2. ^ Joel Mowbray on Visa Express on National Review Online
  3. ^ Powell Seeks Top Consular Official's Resignation