US asks embassies to identify population groups for tougher visa screening

Apr 05, 2017, 00:49
US asks embassies to identify population groups for tougher visa screening

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered a "mandatory social media check" on anyone applying for a us visa who had ever visited a country or territory where the Islamic State group operated, Reuters reported Thursday.

Moreover, two former US officials consider the secretary of state's orders "broad", leaving them to question how such vetting can be implemented efficiently, as large portions of Trump's executive order have been blocked in court. The cable does not offer further definition for the "population sets" it refers to in its instructions.

A series of directives also instructs USA diplomatic posts overseas to review the social media accounts of visa applicants who are suspected of terrorist ties or of having been in Islamic State group-controlled areas.

State Department officials declined to comment on the specifics of the cables, saying they were internal communications. It said it is working to implement enhanced vetting required by Trump's executive order. "Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns". The memo doesn't specify the full range of visa applicants who'll face extra scrutiny, leaving that up to individual embassies, but it does say that any applicant who has ever been in "ISIS-controlled territory" should be subject to additional screening.

Travelers looking to visit the USA should expect longer lines at embassies and a more challenging visa application process following a new set of guidelines put out by the State Department.

The cable sent on March 15th, based on seven pages, Tillerson was provided to The New York Times, made it clear that the process of getting entry visa is about to get tougher at diplomatic posts around the globe.

Even if the applicant otherwise qualifies for a visa, those identified as meeting the criteria would require additional scrutiny, leading to a possible visa denial. These memos, leaked to journalists and revealed on Friday, direct officials to identify "populations warranting increased scrutiny" and perform a "mandatory social media check" on anyone who has visited lands that have been under Islamic State rule. Any derogatory information would be flagged for a specially-trained State Department consular officer in a US embassy or consulate in or near that person's home country who conducts the interview.

On Tuesday, State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the meeting's dates didn't fit in Tillerson's schedule.

"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. However, the questions on 15-year travel and work histories questions are on hold and is awaiting approval.

Mr. Tillerson's cable also restricts the number of interviews one visa officer can conduct every day.

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