Give Homeland Security role in U.S. visas: Senator

U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) walks through the U.S. Capitol subway after meetings about the health care reform bill that is currently being debated in the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 15, 2009. REUTERS/Benjamin J. Myers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Homeland Security Department rather than the State Department should handle U.S. visas overseas to meet security threats, the chairman of the Senate homeland security committee said on Sunday.

Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman raised the idea during a discussion on ABCs “This Week” of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound plane on Dec 25.

“I believe, incidentally, that we ought to take a look at taking the visa application and admission responsibility from the State Department. It doesn’t really fit with foreign policy anymore,” he said.

“And in an age of terrorism, I think the Department of Homeland Security ought to be handling visas abroad.”

The 23-year-old Nigerian accused of the attempted bombing, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, held a multiple-entry U.S. visa issued in London, according to a statement by his family.

Leaders of the Senate committee say they will convene a hearing this month to examine airline security.

The committee’s top Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, said on “This Week” the State Department should have revoked Abdulmutallab’s visa after his family told U.S. officials they were worried about his activities.

The Homeland Security Department was to take control this month of a visa program for flight school students.

Foreign citizens from all but 35 countries, mostly in Europe but also including Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, must obtain a U.S. visa to visit the United States but a visa does not guarantee entry. Some 5.8 million non-immigrant visas were issued in 2006, the most recent year listed on a State Department site on the Internet.

Reporting by Charles Abbott, editing by Alan Elsner