Trump Seeks to Make Permanent ‘Extreme Vetting’ Questions for Certain Visa Applicants

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer August 25, 2017
Trump Seeks to Make Permanent ‘Extreme Vetting’ Questions for Certain Visa Applicants

A proposal from the Trump administration would make "extreme vetting" a permanent fixture of questionnaires that certain visa applicants—including some of those petitioning for employment-based visas—must complete. The questions ask about the applicant's social media user names, travel history and other biographical information.

The State Department is seeking permanent approval of the form "to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism [and] national security-related or other visa ineligibilities." The form was approved on a temporary basis in May. The State Department is accepting public comments about the questionnaire through Oct. 2.

Administration officials estimate that 0.5 percent of U.S. visa applicants worldwide, or about 65,000 people per year, will present a certain threat profile and will be asked to submit information about the following:

  • Travel history during the last 15 years, including source of funding for travel. Applicants may be asked to recount or explain the details of their travel and, when possible, provide supporting documentation.
  • Address and employment history during the last 15 years.
  • Social media user names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses used during the last five years. Consular officers will be directed not to request user passwords, engage with visa applicants through social media, or violate their privacy settings or controls, according to the State Department.
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance.
  • Names and dates of birth for all children, siblings, current and former spouses, and civil or domestic partners.

Since the temporary form was rolled out in May, it has sparked criticism from several corners, including privacy and immigrant advocacy groups, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In comments submitted to the State Department, AILA stated that the additional request for information places "excessive burdens on applicants and could lead to unwarranted denials and misrepresentation findings."

The State Department said that applicants who cannot provide the requested information will not automatically be denied, but AILA expressed concerns about the process, in which "it is conceivable that most applicants will have difficulty recalling the full scope of information requested and providing supporting documentation where needed, in particular to verify the source of funds for travel that may have occurred a decade and a half ago. In addition, the questions could have a chilling effect and discourage well-intentioned and eligible individuals from applying for visas."

The request for social media user names in particular raises privacy concerns, AILA said.

Some of these issues include applicants feeling they need to self-censor or delete their accounts, social media scrutiny extending to friends and connections, and the possibility of social media content being taken out of context. "Innocent communications could easily be misconstrued as nefarious and result in unwarranted denials with associated personal and business consequences," AILA said.

More communication will be needed to minimize disruptions to travelers, according to comments submitted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Individuals that have traveled extensively around the world for business or leisure travel could have difficulty documenting the exact dates of their travel as their passports may not have visa entry stamps or may not have stamps that are readable," the Chamber said. "The 15-year period would also likely cover travel activity under a prior passport which an applicant may no longer have in his or her possession. [The State Department] should clearly outline how it will handle these concerns and communicate this to travelers."

The Chamber also had concerns about the scope of what constitutes social media for review purposes. While social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are well-known, other applications or websites may contain social media-type functions, such as reviews that are posted online, or could fall under a broad definition of social media.

"In many cases, individuals may maintain multiple accounts on the same platform, such as having personal and business accounts. This proposal will need to address treatment of abandoned accounts, companies that cease to operate and future platforms that are not even envisioned now."

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