Over the course of the past month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has issued several cables directing consular posts abroad to implement additional security screening for certain visa applicants. Initial directives were modified after a U.S. District Court in Hawaii suspended implementation of certain sections of President Trump’s revised executive order regarding travel (EO) on May 15, 2017, which included those sections of the EO halting visa issuance for individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen as well as the suspension of travel for refugees to the U.S. for 120 days. While the new directives do not suspend visa issuance for any individuals from any particular country, they put into place heightened scrutiny for certain “populations” deemed to “warrant increased scrutiny,” which certainly include nationals of the six countries listed in the EO (plus Iraq). Secretary Tillerson also stated that these directives are preliminary, which suggests that the new protocols are merely a first step in what the President has termed, “extreme vetting.”

  • Consular Chiefs are to convene working groups to develop criteria to identify visa applicants from “populations warranting increased scrutiny.”
  • Consular officers are required to identify individuals from these populations during the course of the visa interview and consider sending a Donkey Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) request. Such requests, often referred to as security clearance or administrative processing, are sent by the visa issuing post to the Department of State headquarters in Washington, D.C. to perform an investigation into whether the individual poses a security threat. Processing commonly takes several weeks or months.
  • Any individual deemed to have ties to ISIS or other terrorist organizations, or who has ever been present in an ISIS-controlled territory (presumably Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen), will be subject to a mandatory social media review.
  • Individuals with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are required to undergo heightened screening.
  • Posts are directed not to limit the number of visa interviews per consular officer per day in order to allow the consular officer to conduct a more thorough review. Secretary Tillerson acknowledges in his directives that limiting the number of visa appointments may result in appointment backlogs.

While the provisions of the revised EO preventing visa issuance for individuals from certain countries have been temporarily enjoined, as noted above, the increase in Donkey SAO requests for these visa applicants will have a similar effect due to the lengthy delays often associated with administrative processing. Additionally, individuals who are not from one of the seven countries listed should expect delays in visa scheduling and issuance as consular posts worldwide seek to implement Secretary Tillerson’s directives.

What is the potential Impact and what to do?

  1. Applicants and employers can expect delays in available appointments for consular processing. Employers should make sure that employees apply for earlier appointments when possible.
  2. Applicants should review their social media record and be cautious about what is posted to social media.
  3. Applicants should expect more delays due to administrative processing.
  4. It is critical to consider visa application forms as legal documents, and proper legal preparation for visa interviews will be more critical.
  5. It is important to reduce the footprint for review at the consular post, so use of E company registration and L blanket petitions can help improve processing as well as address credibility issues.