State Dept. Issues New Travel Advisory Threat Levels

Ms Michelle Bernier-Toth, acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizen services, said the changes were made as there was a need to make the information more accessible to people and more easily understood using plain language. According to Michelle Bernier-Toth, Bureau of Consular Affairs acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizens services at the state department, the change came about about because travelers found the previous system hard to understand.

For instance, India is ranked Level 2 (exercise increased caution) and Pakistan has been given Level 3 (reconsider travel).

One country's advisory level that raised questions was Cuba, which now sits at Level 3.

"This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk", the State Department informed.

"Terrorists have targeted U.S. diplomats and diplomatic facilities in the past, and evidence suggests they continue to do so", says the State Department. The Level 4 has been indicated for nations such as Afghanistan, recommending "do not travel". Level three countries include Russian Federation, due to civil unrest in certain areas, and Venezuela, due to crime and a limited ability of the U.S. to provide assistance to citizens. Travelers already in those countries are advised to leave as soon as it is safe. Level four countries include Iraq, Iran, and Libya. "Violent crime, such as sexual assault, has occurred at tourist sites and in other locations", the advisory said.

"So we've done away with travel warnings and alerts, we've done away with emergency and security messages because, again, that was something people didn't always understand the difference [between], and we have gone to a travel advisory [system] for every country-including Antarctica".

The U.S. Department has placed Pakistan under level 3 category.

Some countries have complained in the past that warnings exaggerate dangers and damage tourism, or suspect they have been subjected to a United States diplomatic rebuke.

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"In the process of that review, we will look very carefully and we wanted to make sure that we were being consistent across the globe as to how we were assessing and ranking countries." she added.

The change comes in response to persistent general confusion over the meaning of warnings issued under the previous system, according to a State Department spokesperson.

Travel by United States government personnel within Pakistan is restricted and additional restrictions on movements by the USA government personnel outside of American diplomatic facilities may be put in place at any time depending on local circumstances and security conditions, which can change suddenly.

Vanessa Coleman