Thank you again for your responses to my “Ask the Ambassador” column. I appreciate all your feedback and am glad I provide a forum where you feel comfortable to reach out to me. Please keep asking me questions at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov.
This week, one reader wrote to me and said “I’ve heard you say you’re concerned about issues on the Mekong River. What issues are you concerned about, and what is the U.S. doing to help with them?”
This is a very good question. 65 million people live and depend on the Mekong River in Asia. The river provides food and water to all of those people, and it supplies silt for the barrier islands in the Mekong Delta that help to prevent the sea level from rising. Without a robust Mekong River, people all over Asia could lose their livelihoods because of potential changes in fishing and farming ability. Obviously, I am very interested in helping Cambodia, and the rest of the Southeast Asia, make sure that the Mekong and the surrounding region stays healthy and continues to develop in productive ways. The Mekong River is vital to the economies of all countries in the region.
One of the ways that Cambodia, and other countries in the Lower Mekong sub-region, can work together to improve their economies is through effective development of the Mekong River. Development can mean damming the river, but it doesn’t have to. Building dams on the Mekong is one of the things I am most worried about. Dams built anywhere along the river in Cambodia, or even further upstream, can change the river in ways that we can’t even imagine. If Cambodia and the other Mekong countries do decide to dam the river, I believe they should do so in a way that is informed by the best science possible. Proper studies haven’t been done yet to test what could happen to the river. Until they are, I believe there should be a pause in building dams so that everyone involved can come together and discuss the best way forward. The Mekong River can be a big part of economic development in Cambodia, if it is used and respected as the great resource that it is.
To help with this, the United States founded the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) in 2009. LMI is a multinational effort to foster integrated sub-regional cooperation and capacity building among Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam, in the areas of education, health, environment, and connectivity. We started this program in an effort to enhance collaboration among the countries of Southeast Asia as well as improve economic stability in the region. Cambodia is in charge of the health pillar, and has been doing a magnificent job with coordinating different health projects and topics amongst the 5 countries.
At the LMI Ministerial Meeting this past July, Secretary Clinton announced that the U.S. government would be providing $50 million to the LMI over the course of three years, which will allow for LMI to provide new programming and activities, such as the Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative and the Empowering Women in the Lower Mekong Region program. I think it is important that the U.S. has taken an interest in strengthening Cambodia’s regional capacity in this way because, as Secretary Clinton explained at the event in Siem Reap, we have to “take a hard look about what we can do, not just in Southeast Asia but around the world, to make sure that economies are working for people and not just people at the top, but people throughout society.” I wholeheartedly agree with the Secretary. I truly believe that in focusing on education, health, environment, and connectivity, the Lower Mekong Initiative can help to keep the Mekong River strong and help contribute to the economic standing and development of Cambodia.
We’ve also recently received a lot of questions about applying for visas, and particularly Diversity Visas. Inquiries about visas are one of the most common questions that readers send me, and I know that the process can be complicated. My grandmother and grandfather immigrated to the United States, so I understand and can relate to what visa applicants everywhere go through. That is why my wonderful Consular officers have done extensive interviews about visas, to try and make the process clearer. You can check out a CTN interview that one of my amazing Consular officers did last year on the Embassy’s YouTube page at http://www.youtube.com/user/USembassycambodia.
Visa’s are on everybody’s mind. When I was in Long Beach recently, I spent a lot of time talking with the Cambodian Americans there about the visa process. As Diversity Visa lottery winners are now starting to receive notice, I thought it might be helpful if I shared the same information with you that I spoke about in Long Beach. The Diversity Visa program was established in 1995 through the Immigration Act of 1990, and Cambodia has been a participant in this program since the beginning. Every year, the program makes available up to 55,000 U.S. immigrant visas to people from countries with low immigration rates, and since 1995, thousands of people from around the world have become lawful permanent residents through the DV program. Its very important to me that you understand that you do not need to pay when entering the lottery, but you are required to make a payment when they are selected for an interview.
Since this year’s DV season is in full swing, I wanted to give a few words of advice to DV lottery applicants. First, it is crucial that DV lottery applicants visit www.dvlottery.state.gov and use their confirmation number to check the status of their application. DV eligibility expires by September 30, 2012, and we will not be able to grant a Diversity Visa to any individual after that date. If you have won, I don’t want you to miss out!
Second, it is important that the lottery winners submit all required documents and forms, pay required fees, complete a medical examination, and then be interviewed by one of our consular officer at the U.S. Embassy to demonstrate that they qualify for a diversity visa. We also require translations of all non-English documents. Obviously, it is always good to arrive early for an interview.
I realize that this is a lot of information, but the Diversity Visa is truly a wonderful opportunity. It’s a way for the United States to welcome immigrants from around the world, and this program is an excellent vehicle for those interested in legally immigrating to the U.S. My family is in the United States because of immigrant visas, and I am proud that the U.S. continues to support immigration for a wide range of qualified people.
Thanks again for your consistent feedback. Keep emailing me at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov, and I’ll try my best to answer your most pressing questions. Also, be sure to keep checking my blog at http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd/ for more updates!
William E. Todd is U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia