Cambodians who want to emigrate to the US—or US parents who want immigrant visas for adopted Cambodian children—will have to travel to Bangkok to apply for visas as of Feb 1.
The change in policy by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh follows reports of widespread fraud involving the visa process in Cambodia, but embassy officials say it is due to a rapidly increasing workload.
Last year, the embassy issued 1,668 immigrant visas and 3,200 temporary or tourist visas. The new policy affects only immigrant visas, which have risen sharply each year since 1994, when 604 were issued.
An embassy spokesman said the immigrant visas require much more background investigation than the tourist visas, and that the US Embassy in Bangkok is better equipped to handle the work.
Embassy officials say applicants who already have appointments in Phnom Penh can complete the interview process here, but the embassy will schedule all future interviews in Bang-kok.
Several embassy employees said the consulate staff was shocked to learn of the change.
The shift to Bangkok would add significantly to the expense of emigrating, one employee said. Many Cambodians already find the application fee prohibitive and the addition of travel and lodging costs will make it impossible for many more, the employee said.
In October, US officials began investigating 17 allegedly phony visa requests submitted by Cambodian government officials and politicians. Sources said that Cambodians were willing to pay up to $20,000 for a visa.
The US has also been dealing with possible baby-trafficking involving 11 children awaiting visas to go to the US with their adoptive parents.
The US Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to issue visas in those cases. At least three US adoptive families remain in Cambodia, and will file appeals this week in Bangkok. The families declined comment Sunday.
Between February 2000 and January 2001, Cambodians applied for 8,000 non-immigrant visas. 4,800 were rejected.
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)