During his campaign, President Trump called for "extreme vetting" of immigrants, visitors and refugees to the U.S. If a new program begun in May represents that extreme vetting, it appears that the government is taking no chances at all on foreigners visiting the United States.
As we discussed on this blog at the time, the State Department rolled out a new questionnaire requesting far more detailed information about visa applicants "who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny." Although the questionnaire is technically voluntary, the State Department said that declining to fill it out could result in processing delays or even a denial of the visa.
The questionnaire required information previously not requested by immigration authorities -- all prior passport numbers, social media handles used over the last five years, phone numbers, email addresses, and 15 years of background information including physical addresses, employment history and travel history.
Who will be determined to warrant additional scrutiny is a key question. Consular officials were granted full authority to make that determination, and no opportunity for appeal was provided.
A State Department official contacted by Reuters would not provide data on how often the form had been used or whether certain nationalities had been targeted for its use. He estimated that about 65,000 visa applicants per year "will present a threat profile" that warrant the use of the questionnaire.
Immigration law practitioners interviewed by Reuters indicated that large proportions or even all of their clients had been asked to use the questionnaire, even when only applying for visitor visas.
"It could be that everyone is missing another consequence of the use of the form - its deployment in a far wider sense to cover all sorts of individuals," said one immigration lawyer.
The new questionnaire was approved by the Office of Management and Budget on an emergency basis, which authorized its use for six months. Ordinarily, the OMB must approve federal requests for information such as this.
Now, the State Department has taken the first step toward requiring use of the questionnaire for the next three years -- publishing a notice in the Federal Register. The public has the right to comment on the request until Oct. 2. If you would like to comment, you can do so on this Federal Register comment form.
Earlier this week, President Trump announced his support for a Senate bill that would dramatically change the balance and values of our immigration system. The RAISE Act would make most immigration contingent upon employment skills rather than family connections -- the opposite of today's system. It would also prioritize English-speaking immigrants and reduce the total number of immigrants by half over 10 years.