``If they want to do this they should apply it to all visa holders. Muslims and Middle Easterners don't have to be terrorists. This is an insult,'' Egyptian physician Hany Fares said.
Fares has applied for a U.S. visa to visit his fiancee, who is studying in Washington.
The plan, proposed Wednesday, would expand the reach of an existing law to better track tourists, business travelers, students and temporary workers considered possible security threats.
Officials familiar with the proposal said it was mainly aimed at visitors from Middle Eastern and Islamic countries, although at a news conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft did not specify any particular country.
He said a list would be developed and the only countries certain to be on the list are those already on the State Department's list of terrorist nations, including North Korea, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. ``No country is totally exempt,'' he said.
Ashcroft said the regulation would help prevent terrorism by permitting the government to more efficiently identify people who pose a threat. Officials said it would apply to people who stay more than a month and is based on an alien registration law put in place during World War II.
The United States has already instituted some visa changes since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which were carried out by 19 Muslim men from the Middle East.
In November, the State Department said the United States would slow down the process of issuing visas to young men from Arab and Muslim nations so it can search their backgrounds for any evidence of terrorist activities.
Foreigners seeking to live in the United States are already photographed and fingerprinted and must provide detailed background information to the government. The same is required of visitors from Libya, Iraq, Sudan and Iran. Some say the new measures will only increase anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.
``America already has a very bad reputation in the Arab world. This will enhance the opinion that it is against the Arabs,'' said Shamlan al-Issa, a Kuwaiti political scientist.
Hafez Abu Saada, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, agreed, saying such procedures won't prevent terror operations against America and will fuel Arab hatred toward U.S. policies.
``If the law comes out in that way then this would be racism against Arabs and Muslims - scary racism,'' he said.
Hesham Youssef, spokesman for the Arab League chief, said that ``if Arabs are treated in one way and the rest of the world is treated in another way ... because they are Arab, then it's not acceptable.''
Others said America has the right to protect itself as it sees fit.
``I think it is fair. They have the right to protect their country against whoever they think would be harmful,'' said Ahmed Farghaly, a 25-year-old Egyptian accountant.