The Proposals

On May 4, 2017 the Office of the Federal Register published a Notice of Information Collection, inviting public comment on the possibility of reforming the U.S visa application process.

If the proposals are implemented, visa applicants selected for enhanced security scrutiny (for example, due to previous travel to countries in which terrorist organizations are known to operate) will be required to complete an extended visa application form, providing the following information:

  • Travel history for the last fifteen years, including the source of funding for travel
  • Address history for the last fifteen years
  • Employment history for the last fifteen years
  • Passport numbers and country of issuance of every passport held by the applicant
  • Names and dates of birth of all siblings
  • Name and dates of birth of all children
  • Names and dates of birth of all current and former spouses/civil partners and domestic partners
  • All social media platforms and identifiers used during the last five years and
  • All telephone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.

The proposals seek to implement the Directive of the President in the Memorandum for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, dated March 6, 2017, which required the introduction of additional protocols and procedures focused on “[ensuring] the proper collection of all information necessary to rigorously evaluate all grounds of inadmissibility or deportability, or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits”.

The U.S State Department have provided an express assurance that the scrutiny of social media platforms will not be used to deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender or sexual orientation.

The public consultation will end on May 18, 2017, after which date it is likely a formal announcement will be made, regarding the future of the proposals.

The Current System

Under the current system, the majority of the information above is already collected from U.S visa applicants, albeit across a significantly shorter time frame (generally five years, rather than fifteen years). However, the proposed requirement for visa applicants to disclose their social media history is entirely new and represents a significant departure from the current approach.

How Will The Proposed New Requirements Affect the U.S Visa Application Process?

The U.S State Department estimates that the proposals, if implemented, will affect approximately 0.5% of U.S. visa applicants worldwide, the equivalent to approximately 65,000 visa applicants per year.

Although the Notice of Information Collection states that the proposals, if implemented, will apply only to individuals selected for enhanced security screening (for example, due to previous travel to countries in which terrorist organizations are known to operate), in reality the ambit of the proposals will depend upon the number of countries which feature in the list. If a large number of countries feature in the list (for example, 10 or 20 countries), the proposals will have implications for any British national who has visited relatives in any of the countries in question and individuals who have undertaken humanitarian aid work with reputable aid agencies in the countries in question.

Critics have questioned the practicality of the proposals, for applicants and consular staff. Some political commentators have contended that a rule requiring U.S visa applicants to disclose a comprehensive 15 year address, employment and travel history constitutes an undue burden on applicants and will pose difficulties for individuals who have traveled extensively for personal and professional reasons. Similarly, there is speculation that requiring U.S Embassy staff to undertake a comprehensive five year review of the social media history of 65,000 people will create a disproportionate amount of work for U.S Embassies around the world, many of whom are already experiencing major visa delays and backlog.

In any event, some high-profile spectators have questioned the likely effectiveness of the proposals. John Sandweg, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, told Reuters that, in his view, ““The more effective tactics are the methods that we currently use to monitor terrorist organizations, not just stumbling into the terrorist who is dumb enough to post on his Facebook page ‘I am going to blow something up in the United States’”.

While the proposed new requirements, if implemented, will impose an increased burden on U.S visa applicants and Embassies alike, it is important to remember that the grant of a U.S visa is a privilege, not a right; the burden is on the visa applicant to satisfy U.S authorities that their visa application should be granted. If the proposals are implemented, U.S visa applicants will be required to comply with requests for further information as far as possible, or risk outright rejection of their application. We will endeavor to provide updates regarding the progress of the proposals.

Davies Legal

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Published: 12th May 2017