The United States will demand new security checks before giving visas to tourists, business travelers and relatives of American residents which will make it tougher for millions of visitors to enter.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, sent diplomatic cables last week from to all American embassies instructing consular officials to broadly increase scrutiny. This is the first step of the “extreme vetting” Mr. Trump promised during the presidential campaign.
The new rules don’t apply to citizens of 38 countries, including most of Europe and allies like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, as they can be admitted quickly into the United States under the visa waiver program. However, that program doesn’t cover citizens from any country in the Middle East or Africa.
Federal courts have temporarily blocked President Trump’s travel ban which means that stricter security checks for people from six predominantly Muslim nations remain on hold.
According to four cables sent between March 10 and March 17, embassy officials must now scrutinize a larger pool of visa applicants to decide if they pose security risks to the United States, meaning that Trump and his national security team aren’t waiting to toughen the rules to decide who can enter the country.
If the person has ever been in territory controlled by the Islamic State the embassy officials will make mandatory checks of social media history and ask applicants detailed questions about their background.
Tillerson’s cables leave the targeting for the extra scrutiny up to security officers at each embassy. However, Trump has spoken regularly of his concern about the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism” from immigrants.
The administration’s moves will increase the likelihood of denial for those seeking to come to America, according to consular officials and immigration advocates. They will also increase slowing the bureaucratic approval process that can already take months or even years for those flagged for extra investigation.
Worries over targeting people:
Advocates say that they worry about people being profiled for extra scrutiny because of their name or nationality, however, there are legitimate reasons someone might be targeted, such as evidence of a connection to terrorism or crime.
Director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Greg Chen, said: “This will certainly slow down the screening process and impose a substantial burden on these applicants. It will make it much harder and create substantial delays.”
The Trump administration wants a more intense focus on the potential for a serious threat when making decisions about who should receive a visa, as it’s obvious from Tillerson’s cables.
The cables were titled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications.” Tillerson wrote in the cables: “Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns. All visa decisions are national security decisions.”
Trump accused the Obama administration, during his presidential campaign, of failing to screen properly people coming into the United States. Trump vowed to ban all incoming Muslims, but later backed away from a total ban on Muslims but promised “extreme vetting” of those trying to come to the United States.
Trump signed an executive order aimed at temporarily blocking refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries. Courts blocked the first executive order after the chaotic rollout just days into his term, the second order was also blocked this month.
Along with the revised travel ban, Trump wrote a presidential memo ordering the secretary of state, the attorney general and the secretary of homeland security to “implement protocols and procedures” to enhance visa screening on March 6.
State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said Tillerson’s cables from are among the taken actions to carry out that memo and that the steps aim “to more effectively identify individuals who could pose a threat to the United States.”
People seeking entry to the United States must apply for a visa, whether it’s for family, business or tourism reasons. anyone suspected of being a threat, conducting fraud or planning to stay longer than allowed can be denied a visa by the embassy officials
Tillerson wrote in the cable: “Consular chiefs must immediately convene post’s law enforcement and intelligence community partners to develop sets of post-applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny.”
The cables specify the areas of inquiry during a required interview are: the applicant’s travel history, addresses and work history for 15 years; and all phone numbers, email addresses and social media handles used by the applicant in the past five years.
In 2016, the United States issued more than 10 million visas.