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US visa: Now personal email, social media accounts of applicants to be scrutinized

Washington: The Trump administration has instructed all its diplomatic missions worldwide to identify certain groups that need extra scrutiny and adopt a rigorous vetting process for issuing visas. Those applying for an American visa – including tourist and business visas – would be asked to furnish details of their employment and residence for the last 15 years and all the phone numbers they used in the previous five years, a diplomatic cable issued by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said.

The cable was sent after President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order restricting travel from six Muslim-majority Muslim countries on March 6.

The cable dated March 15 says these additional protocols have been put in place to prevent the entry into the US of foreign nationals who may aid, support or commit violent, criminal or terrorist acts and ensure that those allowed to come in are rigorously vetted.

The classified cable asks all its overseas diplomatic posts to immediately draw a set of criteria for a rigorous vetting process for issuing visas to foreign nationals.

It was not clear if the move will have any impact on Indians.

The cable instructed visa issuing officers to ask additional questions to the applicants. It would also require the applicant to share with visa officer all phone numbers, emails and social media accounts
used in the last five years.

Tillerson’s cable also restricts the number of interviews one visa officer can do every day. “In order to ensure that proper focus is given to each application, posts should generally not schedule more
than 120 visa interviews per consular adjudicator per day,” the cable said.

At the same time, it acknowledged that this might result in interview appointment backlogs.

“Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns,” Tillerson wrote in the cable.”All visa decisions are national security decisions,” he added. Immigration attorneys said the latest move would slow down the visa issuing process and result in backlogs.

“This will certainly slow down the screening process and impose substantial burden on the applicants. It will make it much harder and create substantial delays,” said Greg Chan, director of American Immigration Lawyers Association.

In 2016, the US State Department issued more than 10 million non-immigrant visas and more than 617,000 immigrant visas.