The Trump administration is making it more difficult for millions of visitors to enter the United States by demanding additional security checks before issuing visas to tourists, business travelers, and relatives of American residents, all seemingly in fulfillment of a campaign promise to enact “extreme vetting.” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has sent diplomatic cables to US Embassies and Consulates worldwide with these instructions for stricter vetting, basing them off a March 6 presidential memorandum ordering the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the secretary of homeland security to “implement protocols and procedures” to enhance visa screening. The new security checks generally do not apply to citizens of countries in the Visa Waiver Program, which includes thirty-eight member countries. The additional scrutiny, for example, will ask applicants about their background and social media history if a person has ever been in a territory controlled by the Islamic State. “Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns,” Secretary Tillerson writes in the cables. “All visa decisions are national security decisions.”
In 2016, the United States issued more than ten million visas, and this additional scrutiny is likely to lengthen the already bureaucratic process. “This will certainly slow down the screening process and impose a substantial burden on these applicants,” Greg Chen, the director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, tells the New York Times. “It will make it much harder and create substantial delays.” Chen questions how a single interviewer who conducts 120 interviews per day—at about five minutes per interview—can improve security. “It’s highly unlikely they could obtain information that demonstrates whether someone is a national security threat in such a brief interview process,” he says.