Administration begins “extreme vetting” of some visa applicants

As of May 23, 2017, U.S. consular officers can ask certain visa applicants whom they feel need “more rigorous” screening to complete a new form requesting 15 years worth of address, employment, and travel history (including domestic travel in certain cases, and source(s) of funding); names and dates of birth of immediate family members, including children and siblings as well as former spouses or partners; and phone numbers, email addresses, and identifiers for all social media accounts going back 5 years.

Both nonimmigrant (temporary), and immigrant visa applicants may be asked to complete the form. According to the notice in the Federal Register, those who are from, who live in, or who have traveled to countries in which a U.S. consular officer believes terrorists are operating are more likely to be singled out to complete the new form. As a practical matter, this means visa applicants from the six countries identified in President Trump’s March 6, 2017 Executive Order, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, will be disproportionately affected, as will those who are from or have ties to other predominantly Muslim countries.

While in theory, completing the form will be voluntary, as a practical matter, failure to comply is likely to result in denial of the visa. Additionally, even in the best-case scenario, this level of “vetting” is likely to lead to visa processing delays. In the worst case scenario, innocent mistakes in completing the form could lead to visa denials. For example, a visa applicant who inadvertently omits a weekend trip taken more than a decade ago, or who gets the dates wrong on any travel or on moving from one address to another, or who forgets to list a no longer used social media account, will likely face a visa denial.  U.S. consular officers have complete discretion in their decision making, and there is no right to appeal a visa denial.

The new form has been approved for use through November 30, 2017, at which point the Department of State may request that its use be extended.

Impact for Maine businesses?      Because this form will likely be used with visa applicants from the six countries named above, many employees at Maine businesses who are originally from Somalia or Sudan, etc.  may experience delays or denials of their relatives’ immigrant visas.  This will cause considerable strain on affected families, as will the mere worry that their family members who are in the pipeline to immigrate could be denied their visas.  Nonimmigrants applying for visas to visit, study or work in the U.S. may also experience higher rates of visa denials as a result of the government’s decision to start asking for 15 years’ worth of detailed data.