DOS Guidance to Consular Officers after Trump Order Signals Heightened Scrutiny of Visa Applicants23 Mar 2017
Earlier today, it was revealed that the U.S. Department of State (DOS) has issued several “cables” (i.e. memos) over the past two weeks related to the latest travel ban executive order (EO), which was signed by President Trump on March 6, 2017, but has yet to be implemented due to a court order. The initial cables, which were issued prior to the temporary restraining order issued by a federal court on March 15, 2017, instruct consular officers on how the EO is to be implemented. Immediately following the court order to block the EO, a cable was issued, ordering officers to halt implementation. A final cable, which was issued on March 17, 2017, provides some general instructions to consular officers to “increase scrutiny of [all] visa applicants for potential security and non-security related ineligibilities.”
A Series of Cables
The first cable was issued on March 10th and informed consular officials about the new EO and how it would be implemented, starting on March 16th. The cable focused on implementation of the EO in regards to visa applicants and holders from the six countries subject to the ban – Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It was largely consistent with information the DOS provided publicly, as reported on MurthyDotCom.
A second cable, which was issued on March 15th, but presumably earlier in the day before a federal court had blocked the EO, provided for increased scrutiny of foreign nationals from the six countries, as well as increased scrutiny for populations identified as warranting it by consular, law enforcement, and intelligence officials in a given country. The cable also provided for increased collection and inspection of applicants’ social media and travel information. However, implementation of the second cable was halted by a third cable, issued on March 16th, in the wake of a court ruling temporarily suspending aspects of the new EO. Finally, on March 17th, the DOS issued a fourth cable that remains in effect.
Some Changes in DOS Scrutiny of Visa Applicants
As outlined in the fourth cable, the DOS has instructed consular officers to remain vigilant in their adjudication of visas. The cable reminds officers “that all visa decisions are national security decisions.” Officers are encouraged to submit discretionary security advisory opinion (SAO) requests to the DOS for additional background checks for applicants who have potential security-related ineligibilities, are identified as part of a population warranting additional scrutiny, or who have ties to terrorist organizations or were in ISIS-controlled territory. Consular posts are also instructed to schedule no more than 120 visa interviews per day per officer to provide time for the additional scrutiny, even if interview appointment backlogs increase as a result.
Ultimately, most visa applicants are unlikely to see much change from previous visa adjudication practices as a result of these cables. Consular officers already closely scrutinized applicants for potential security threats. However, the cables do illustrate a renewed focus on the vetting of visa applicants by the DOS, including the potential review of visa applicants’ social media.
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