Many foreign nationals will see their US visas possibly denied if they have traveled to any country potentially connected to terror activities. The Department of State has instructed US embassies worldwide to extremely vet any visa request with particular attention to the connections of the applicant with Islamic states.
New security checks are going to be introduced before issuing tourist visas and applicants will be asked detailed questions about their background. These extreme vetting procedures are detailed in two diplomatic cables and other memos sent last week from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Consular officials have been told to broadly increase scrutiny in the direction of the “extreme vetting” requested by the Trump Administration. These rules do not apply to people traveling with ESTA, but only to those who apply for a visa.
The extra scrutiny will include mandatory checks of social media history if a person has ever been in territory controlled by the Islamic State.
Now Visas Become a National Security Matter
Consular officials and immigration advocates believe this will increase the likelihood of denial for those seeking to come to the United States. The new rules will also further slow a bureaucratic approval process that can already take months or even years for those flagged for extra investigation.
The Department of State wants a more intense focus on the potential for a serious threat when making decisions about a visa. In the cables, titled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” Tillerson wrote the following:
“Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns… All officers should remember that all visa decisions are national security decisions. “
The new telexes by DOS also mandate control of the daily workload in the visa application process:
“In order to ensure that proper focus is given to each application, posts should generally not schedule more than 120 visa interviews per consular adjudicator/per day.”
This means an interview every 5 minutes which is probably the workload already maintained by consular officers and which will not improve the vetting of candidates. Definitely 5 minutes won’t be enough to conduct the new screening process. In fact, the March 15 cable suggests the areas of inquiry during the interview in case of suspected links to terrorism:
- the applicant’s travel history over the last 15 years
- addresses for the last 15 years if different from the current address
- work history and employers for the last 15 years, including a brief description when applicable
- all phone numbers used in the last 5 years
- email addresses and social media handles used in the past five years
- applicant’s prior passport numbers
- the names of any sibling/children/former spouses
The State Department urged its embassy officials to delay or reschedule interviews if an applicant was unable to provide all of the information demanded.
Facebook and Social Media Vetting Becoming Mainstream
The ‘mandatory social media check‘ for all applicants who have ever been present in territory controlled by the Islamic State, is a broad, labor-intensive expansion of the current screening process.
Social media screening is now done fairly rarely by consular officials, but ISIS is known to be particularly active on social media, and jihadi fighters have posted many photos to Facebook in the past.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for wider social media screening for those seeking to enter the United States. They believe that such checks could help to spot possible links to terrorist activity.
Yet delving deeper into applicants’ social media use can significantly lengthen processing time of visas.
So the consular backlog will most likely rise. But the trend is now there and social media begins to be monitored also at the point of entry.
Special Attention to the Six Countries Listed in the Travel Ban
The new extreme vetting process requires the consular officer to prepare a list of population sets to be monitored. This will be accomplished through an involved process of cooperation with local law enforcement and intelligence partners.
“These working groups will develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny.”
Even more extreme vetting will be enforced on any visa application from Lybia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Iran and Somalia.
Reports: State Department Tightens Visa Approval Policies in Islamic States
These rules will be implemented independently of the outcome of the legal battle over the revised travel ban.
Yet, if the ban were to be upheld, all people asking for a visa from one of the 6 countries would be asked the above questions in detail.