Between March 10 and March 17, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued four diplomatic cables to U.S. consular posts instructing consular officials to broadly increase scrutiny of visa applicants. The cables provide more specific guidance to consular staff regarding implementing President Trump's "extreme vetting" measures for non-citizens entering the United States. The cables are titled as follows:
- DOS Cable Superseding Previously Issued Cable on Implementing Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications - March 17, 2017
- DOS Cable on Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications - March 15, 2017
- DOS Cable to Visa-Issuing Posts Halting Implementation of Executive Order 13780 - March 17, 2017
- DOS Cable to Visa-Issuing Posts with Guidance on Executive Order 13780 - March 10, 2017
The cables contain guidance on implementing Section 2 of the March 6, 2017, Presidential Memorandum which called for the establishment of protocols and procedures for enhanced screening and vetting of visa applicants. The cables also call for the identification of “populations warranting increased scrutiny,” and would require a mandatory social media checks for all applicants who have ever been present in territory controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) (noting social media checks are already routinely used on a discretionary basis by consular staff and Customs and Border Protection agents to assess potential admissibility issues).
It is important to note that the new vetting procedures would not apply to individuals traveling without a visa from one of the 38 countries who are eligible for travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (also known as “ESTA”), which include most of Europe and longstanding allies like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Nor do these procedures apply to Canadian nationals who are generally exempt from the requirement to obtain a visa at an Embassy or consulate before traveling to the U.S.
The portions of the cables that call for even stricter security checks for people from six predominantly Muslim nations outlined in the revised Executive Order remain on hold as a result of the temporary block on the implementation President Trump’s travel ban issued by several U.S. federal courts.
In sum, the cables make clear that the process of securing a U.S. visa will be harder and longer at consular posts around the world. All visa applicants should expect an increased chance of denials, longer wait times for appointments, longer visa interviews, and additional delays in visa issuance following appointments including additional security clearance checks and “administrative processing” delays.
D&S will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available.