UNITED STATES – More Rigorous Visa Vetting Implemented
On 3 May 2017, the Department of State requested the right to collect additional information from certain visa applicants worldwide from the Office of Budget and Management. The new information collection powers were quietly implemented on 23 May 2017.
The State Department estimates that 0.5% of visa applicants worldwide – about 65,000 individuals per year - present a threat profile, based on their circumstances and on information they provide in their visa applications. Where individuals fit such a profile, consular officers may now request additional information to perform more rigorous vetting using a new form, the DS-5535.
This new form seeks the following information:
Travel history of the applicant during the previous fifteen years, including the source of funding for each trip; History of addresses during the previous fifteen years; All passport numbers and country of issuance held by an applicant; Names and dates of birth for all siblings; Names and dates of birth for all children; Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners; Social media platforms and identifiers (also known as “handles”) used by the applicant for the previous five years; and, Phone numbers and email addresses used during the previous five years.
While much of this information is already requested on current visa applications, it is generally required for a shorter period of time, e.g. five years rather than fifteen. The request for names and dates of birth for siblings is new as is source of funding for travel the past fifteen years. The request for social media information is new for the Department of State. However, the Department of Homeland Security has collected this information from certain individuals in the past.
Regarding the travel history, a consular officer will request details of an applicant’s domestic or international travel if he or she has been in an area which is or was under the control of a terrorist organization. Such an applicant may be asked to provide details of their travel and supporting documentation. A visa applicant may be asked to complete the DS-5535 at any point during the visa interview process, electronically or in person, and the questions may even be posed orally by a consular officer, according to the Department of State.
Because the request by the Department of State was made on an emergency basis, the questionnaire is valid for 180 days from publication which is until 30 November 2017. If the Department wishes to extend the validity of the form to three years, it will have to initiate a routine approval process to include a 90-day period for comments to be submitted and reviewed by the agency.
As these changes are implemented, affected individuals should consult with an immigration attorney for the latest information and guidance.