Late in the evening of April 20, 2020, President Trump announced by Tweet that he…
The Trump administration has issued several a policy documents to all U.S. consulates describing new vetting procedures for visa applicants. Sent by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “cables” describes procedures that will increase wait times for many applicants. (The Department of State uses the term cables to refer to policy instructions sent to U.S. consulates). Here is a description of key provisions of the cables.
Identity “certain visa populations.”
Each U.S. consulate has been directed to identify specific “applicants populations warranting increased scrutiny.” This determination is supposed to be made in conjunction with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The result will be that each consulate will have a list of specific “populations” that will get heightened screening. Even if an applicant appears to be eligible for a visa, if he is from one of these groups the consulate may order an additional background check.
We agree with a report by Reuters that
Those population groups would likely vary from country to country, according to sources familiar with the cables, as the [policy cable] does not explicitly provide for coordination between the embassies.
Also, it is highly unlikely that the lists will be made publically available.
Additional screening requirements.
For those applicants who receive additional screening, they may be asked to provide substantial additional information at interviews.
- The applicant’s travel history over the last 15 years;
- The names or any siblings/children/former spouses not listed on the visa application;
- The applicant’s addresses during the last 15 years;
- Applicant’s prior passport numbers;
- Applicant’s prior occupation(s) and employers (plus a brief description if applicable) looking back 15 years;
- All phone numbers used by the applicant in the last five years; and
- All email addresses and social media handles used by the applicant in the last five years.
Normally, employment and address histories are provided for only the prior five years. Perhaps the most imposing item on the list is the last one: the consulate may request access to all email and social media accounts belonging to the applicant. Effective immediately, all applicants may wish to assume that they will be required to provide this access.
It is unclear whether applicants will receive advance notice that they are required to provide this additional information. (The cable references such notification, but only with respect to travel ban 2.0 countries). The cable does note that there will be no specific form created to collect the information.
“No additional backlogs.”
The cable instructs U.S. consulates not to create additional visa backlogs, but that seems unlikely. Consulates are told to schedule no more than 120 visa interviews today. As Greg Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association told the New York Times, that works out to about five minutes per interview. We agree with Mr. Chen when he says,
It’s highly unlikely [that consular officers] could obtain information that demonstrates whetehr someone is a national security threat in such a brief interview process.
Instead – as we have predicted since the first travel ban – we anticipate the new cable will result in substantial visa backlogs and delays for applicants.
“All visa decisions are national security decisions.”
The cable encourages consular officers to focus on security issues for all visa applicants.
Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns under § 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in order to explore all available local leads and pending the outcome of an SAO as appropriate, or issue any other refusals or take other precautionary actions pursuant to any applicable ground of inadmissibility under the INA. All officers should remember that all visa decisions are national security decisions.
The reference to INA § 221(g) refers to the requirement that all visa applicants provide all required documentation in support of their application.
We anticipate that the cables will result in additional delays for visa applicants. Applicants may wish to prepare the information described above (such as 15-year residence history) prior to visa interviews, to avoid additional delay if they are requested to submit the information. Applicants should also engage in email and social media with an understanding that those materials may be subject to review at the time of a visa application.