State Department Implements “Extreme Vetting” Measures

Consular officers at U.S. Department of State (DOS) posts around the world have started implementing a new, more intrusive questionnaire as part of the visa application process for certain foreign nationals. The supplemental questionnaire includes probing questions about aliens’ social media profiles and biographical history spanning several years.

As we informed our readers last month, this “extreme vetting” measure stems from the executive order signed by President Trump on March 6, which was in effect a revision of the administration’s first so-called travel ban. Among the portions of this order that were not enjoined by federal courts was a directive to federal agencies to review and revise vetting procedures currently in use. The Trump administration asserted the necessity of more rigorous screening of certain visa applicants in order to preempt terrorists and other national security threats from using the visa channel to gain entry into the U.S.

DOS submitted the proposed questionnaire to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in mid-May, requesting expeditious review and approval of the proposal. OMB approved the measure on May 23, and DOS implemented the questionnaire beginning May 25. While OMB authorized the measures to remain in effect for a six-month period, until this coming November, it is widely expected that the new screening protocol will be updated and extended, perhaps even permanently.

Parameters of the New Measures

The supplemental questionnaire solicits a wide range of detailed, personal information from visa applicants deemed to merit additional scrutiny. Consular officers are themselves charged with determining which applicants will be subjected to the more rigorous vetting, with the guideline that such determination is made on the basis of an applicant’s potential “connection with terrorism,” particularly for applicants who have traveled to areas “under the operational control of a terrorist organization.” 

The information requested in the supplemental questionnaire includes the following:

  • All prior passport numbers and countries of issuance
  • The names of all relatives, from siblings and children to spouses and domestic partners
  • The past 15 years of an applicant’s phone numbers, residential addresses, and employment
  • The past five years of user names of all social media websites and applications for which an applicant has public profiles.

While disclosing the above information is voluntary, DOS has instructed consular officers to inform noncompliant applicants that their failure to complete the questionnaire may result in a delay in their applications. The questionnaire itself notes this tacit warning.

When DOS first submitted the proposal to OMB, the department estimated that 65,000 visa applicants would be affected, resulting in about an extra hour of processing time for each affected applicant. DOS has not revised this projection.

Our Thoughts

During the public comment period prior to implementation, OMB received an outpouring of criticism of the then-proposed measures. Critics decried the broad and burdensome nature of the queries, and homed in in particular on the social media questions, characterizing them as intrusions on privacy and free speech. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) cited the new measures’ potential to discourage visa applicants with justifiable reasons—namely international students and businesspeople—from entering the U.S. We concur with these sentiments.

In light of the short period of time the questionnaire has been in use, it is not yet possible to comment definitively on any implications—for instance, whether an application is delayed or denied as a result of the questionnaire, and whether these consequences stem from unjustifiable or credible reasons. That said, the burden of proof in establishing eligibility to earn a visa rests solely with the alien applicant. Accordingly, in order to minimize delays in processing time, we cautiously recommended that applicants who hail from countries with known terrorist entities, as well as applicants who have in the past traveled to such countries, be prepared to accede to the new measures, and work to collect the information solicited in the questionnaire in advance of submitting visa applications.

In the meantime, our experienced immigration attorneys will continue to track the activities and experiences associated with these new vetting procedures.

This is a developing news story, and as more information becomes available, updates will be published on our news section.

Former U.S. Consular officer, Attorney Sechyi Laiu joined Zhang & Associates, P.C. on June 26, 2017

At Zhang & Associates, P.C., Attorney Laiu specializes on Consular Processing cases and business development. Attorney Laiu also focuses on TN visas, E visas, CBP administrative proceedings (monetary confiscation, deferred inspection), and overseas financial compliance.

Prior to joining Zhang & Associates, P.C., Attorney Laiu worked for the U.S. Department of State as a Chinese and Portuguese speaking diplomat. As a consular-coned officer who served in Vancouver (Canada), Shenyang (P.R. China), and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Attorney Laiu processed over 30,000 visa cases and worked in every section of Consular Affairs overseas (Fraud Prevention Unit, Immigrant Visas, Non-Immigrant Visas, and American Citizen Services).

He will use his experience and expertise to deliver the highest quality of service to our clients.

Founded in 1996, Zhang & Associates, P.C. offers legal services to clients nationwide in all aspects of U.S immigration law. We have successfully handled thousands of immigration cases.

At Zhang & Associates, P.C., our attorneys and supporting professionals are committed to providing high-quality immigration and non-immigration visa services. We specialize in NIW, EB-1, PERM, and I-485 cases. In the past twenty years, we have successfully helped thousands of clients get green cards. If you plan to apply for a green card, please send your CV to Attorney Jerry Zhang ( for a free evaluation.

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