Yesterday, the U.S. Department of State (“DOS”) issued notice in the Federal Register that it proposes to carry out President Trump’s goal of “extreme vetting” by requesting information from a subset of visa applicants (both immigrant and non-immigrant) worldwide “in order to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.” The additional personal information desired to be collected includes:
- Travel history during the last fifteen years, including source of funding for travel;
- Address history during the last fifteen years;
- Employment history during the last fifteen years;
- All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;
- Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
- Name and dates of birth for all children;
- Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
- Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years; and
- Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.
DOS has estimated that these requests would only impact about 65,000 applicants, though it’s unclear how that figure was determined. The additional questions may be sent electronically to the applicant to complete a new Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants, or may be presented orally or in writing at the time of the visa interview. It is also unclear how much additional time it will take DOS to collect and analyze the data before making a visa decision.
While most of this information is already collected on visa applications, they are for a shorter period of time (five years instead of fifteen). However, the request for social media identifiers and associated platforms is new for DOS (it’s already collected on a voluntary basis for certain individuals by the Department of Homeland Security), as are requests for names and dates of birth of siblings. It appears that consular officers may even ask about an applicant’s domestic travel history (with supporting documentation) if it appears the applicant has been in an area while the area was under the operational control of a terrorist organization, as defined at 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B)(vi). These requests are similar to what was in place after the September 11, 2001 attacks for certain visa applicants.
Notably, the notice indicates that failure to provide the requested information will not necessarily result in a visa denial, if the consular officer determines the applicant has provided a credible explanation why he or she cannot answer a question or provide requested supporting documentation, such that the consular officer is able to conclude that the applicant has provided adequate information to determine the applicant’s eligibility to receive the visa.
While the notice states that the collection of social media platforms and identifiers will not be used to deny visas based on an applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation and that visas may not be denied for such reasons, it is unclear what “individual circumstances” “present a threat profile” that will lead U.S. consular officers to conclude that the applicant warrants enhanced screening.
Public comment on this proposal is due May 18, 2018.
If you have any questions about this important topic or have been asked to provide such information, please contact Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP Immigration Law offices. We have Immigration Law Offices in New York and Los Angeles.