According to the NY Times, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) has sent four diplomatic cables to consular posts abroad instructing them to increase scrutiny for some visa applicants, implementing a memo that President Donald Trump signed along with his revised travel ban executive order. This increased scrutiny does not apply to citizens of 38 countries – including most of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea – who are eligible for the visa waiver program that does not require a foreign national to obtain a visa to enter the US. Citizens from countries from the Middle East or Africa may not benefit from the visa waiver program.
For people from six predominantly Muslim countries (Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Iran), stricter security checks will be applied as well. Two travel bans affecting citizens from these countries have been suspended by US courts. The March 15th cable also noted that there should be increased scrutiny for applicants from Iraq.
The extra scrutiny will include questioning about a foreign national’s background and require information about one’s social media history if that person has ever been in territory controlled by the Islamic State. The March 15th cable states that the follow areas of inquiry may include 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 last five years. The March 17th cable though provides that consular officials should not commence questioning about the 15-year travel and work histories until the DOS receives authorization from the Office of Management and Budget. It is not clear why such permission has not yet been granted.
The cables do not make clear who will be the focus of the extra scrutiny and the US DOS leaves it to the discretion of consular officials. Immigration advocates claim that they are concerned about people being profiled because of their nationality or name. Also, they are concerned that such enhanced scrutiny will increase the likelihood of visa denials and slow down an already backlogged approval process that can take months or even years in some cases.