International students, scientists, visitors and others could be in for a surprise when they next apply for a visa to enter the United States. The Trump Administration has just announced a new policy -- and a new visa questionnaire that will be given to those the administration says warrant additional security.
According to a State Department statement, visa applicants "who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities" will be asked to complete a new, much longer questionnaire that seeks information that was not required in the past:
- All prior passport numbers
- All phone numbers, email addresses and social media names from the past five years
- 15 years' worth of addresses and biographical information, including travel and employment history
Under the new policy, consular officials will decide which visa applicants will be asked to fill out the questionnaire. It is unclear what basis will be used to determine that. Moreover, the decision is thought to be unappealable.
Technically, answering the new questions is voluntary, but the form indicates that refusing to do so could result in processing delays or even the denial of the visa.
New questionnaire expected to discourage, delay many visitors
The Office of Management and Budget approved the new questionnaire on May 23, despite sharp criticism from academic and education groups. The new policy applies to those seeking to teach, study or do research in the United States, which is one of our top immigration policy goals. A new, arduous questionnaire could discourage them from coming here -- and lend their expertise to other nations.
The new policy was also met by suspicion from the president of the Iranian-American Bar Association in San Francisco. He pointed to the "arbitrary power" given to consular officials who will now determine who will be subject to the burdensome questionnaire. With no standards for them to follow and no effective check on their decisions, they could essentially choose who enters the United States based on mere preference or suspicion.
Furthermore, he points out that the U.S. has among the strictest visa processes in the entire world. "The need for tightening the application process further is really unknown and unclear," he said.
If the travel ban is unconstitutional, could this be used to replace it?
Perhaps the most interesting criticism is that this policy could be used to specifically exclude Muslims from visiting or studying in the U.S. Since the Trump Administration's anti-Muslim travel ban has been found unconstitutional, this may be a form of backup plan, according to Reuters.