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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 January 2007, 10:07 GMT
New IT helps orchestra's US tour
BBC Wales orchestra
Travelling to London would have cost the orchestra thousands
BBC Wales' orchestra has flown out for an 11-date US tour after being "guinea pigs" for an IT system collecting fingerprints needed for their visas.

The biometric data, part of security arrangements for visiting the US, was collected in Cardiff by embassy staff, saving the orchestra travelling costs.

The 100-strong concert party faced a 10,000 bill if they had all gone to London to meet work visa requirements.

The embassy said its Cardiff experience would help it develop the technology.

BBC Wales' orchestra at first faced paying thousands in travel and hotel costs when the US embassy insisted the visa application process was carried out in London, with all the concert party applying in person.

They saw us as guinea pigs to try out this new system
Orchestra manager, Byron Jenkins

Orchestra manager Byron Jenkins went public to say that orchestras in the UK were turning down invitations to the US because the process of applying for work visas for concert parties was too cumbersome and costly.

In March 2006, Manchester's Halle orchestra did just that, pulling out of a concert programme in New York, claiming the requirements for gaining work visas were too onerous.

Mr Jenkins' comments on BBC radio were heard by the US embassy's consul general in the UK, John Caulfield, who offered to fast-track the Welsh orchestra's visa applications, if they were prepared to let the embassy try out new technology.

'Pilot program'

He later revealed embassy staff had been experimenting with using a scanner linked to a laptop to electronically gather the fingerprints of visa applicants.

Mr Caulfield offered to conduct a trial at the orchestra's base in Cardiff, to scan all 100 people in the concert party in one day.

But a visit to Cardiff in November by embassy officials ended when the technology broke down after fewer than a dozen people had their fingerprints successfully scanned.

However, a return visit in December saw the remaining 78 people in the concert party have their fingerprints scanned in a matter of hours.

Mr Jenkins said the operation had cut his costs by about 10,000 and he was already taking calls from counterparts across Europe to find out how it worked.

He said: "They saw us as guinea pigs to try out this new system.

"The embassy was disappointed at the initial visit when their software failed, but pulled all the stops out to make sure the return visit ran smoothly and without mishap."

In a statement, the US embassy said: "We are continuing to conduct our pilot program on taking visa applications outside consular offices under limited circumstances.

"Our experience in Cardiff will help us refine the technology and business process for this program, and to develop policy for the use of this technology.

"We appreciate the willingness of the BBC Wales Orchestra to be our partner in this pilot."

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