US Embassies instructed to do stricter screening of visa applicants

25 March, 2017, 00:48 | Author: Priscilla Morrison

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent four cables directing embassies worldwide to identify certain groups that should get extra scrutiny when they apply for visas, including screening of applicants' social media, according to U.S. officials.

The tightened vetting is the result of a memo President Donald Trump signed the same day he signed his revised travel ban. But the practice was "rarely" performed by consular officials as it led to significant delays in processing visa applications, one former official who wished to remain anonymous, told Reuters.

The cable calls for consular chiefs at each post to immediately convene working groups to "develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny" and "attempt to identify individual applicants that fall within the population set during the course of a consular visa interview".

Under a new visa screening process, the Trump administration is requiring "a mandatory social media check" on some applicants.

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Some of the language in the cables, including the line that "all visa decisions are national security decisions", is similar to statements made by USA officials in the past.

Trump issued his revised travel ban on March 6th and also penned a presidential memorandum ordering the attorney general, secretary of homeland security and secretary of state instructing them to "implement protocols and procedures" for enhancing visa screening.

The March 15 cable suggests questions should include an applicant's travel history, addresses, and work history for 15 years, and all phone numbers, email addresses, and social media handles used in the past five years, the Times reported.

For example, the Islamic State took control of official passport offices as it swept across parts of Iraq, Syria, and Libya - and so would have had at its fingertips the means of issuing official-looking documents.

"It's highly unlikely they could obtain information that demonstrates whether someone is a national security threat in such a brief interview process", he said.

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