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Long trips to Suva no longer necessary

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Mar. 29, 2010) - A US Laptop Non Immigrant Visa Pilot Program that will allow Tongans to apply for some US visas in Tonga, was launched jointly in Nuku'alofa this morning, by the Tongan Prime Minister, Dr. Feleti Sevele, the USA Ambassador to Tonga, HE Steven McGann and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the USA Department of State, Ms. Frankie Reed.

In the past Tongans have had to travel to Suva, Fiji, to make their visa applications.

Under the US Laptop Non Immigrant Visa Pilot Program all applications and interviews will be carried out in Tonga, excepting for a USA residential visa. The applications will then be sent to Fiji for processing.

Ambassador McGann said the establishment of the pilot program was the outcome of a combined effort by the two countries. The Tonga government provided the office space, at the Fa'onelua Convention Centre, which will be the program's Nuku'alofa office, and the Ambassador said he then had to pressure his government to increase his budget in order to launch the pilot program.

He said that other areas where the two countries were closely working together, the Pacific Partnership agreement and, most recently, an agreement allowing American Coast Guards to patrol Tongan waters for illegal fishing.

He also said that American and Tongan soldiers fought together in Guadalacanal during the Second World War, and most recently in Iraq from 2003 to 2007.

Dr. Sevele thanked the USA government for the launching of the Non Immigrant Visa Pilot Program, and said it was a great relief to Tongans who wanted to travel to the USA. The exercise had been very costly for Tongans and a great loss of money if their applications were rejected.

Ms. Frankie Reed, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the USA Department of State, who visited Tonga for the launch, reminded the gathering that the program had the blessing of two US Secretaries of State, Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton.

Ms. Reed is a former Peace Corps volunteer and she was looking forward to interact with local people.

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