As the U.S. Consulates implement new vetting procedures, and deal with typically high summer volume, foreign nationals will likely see not only longer wait times at U.S. Consulates for visa appointments, but also delays in the issuance of non-immigrant work and student visas as a result of increased vetting procedures for some applicants.
The summer has always been a busy time for U.S. consulates around the globe. Many foreign nationals currently in the U.S. for work or study will travel home or elsewhere during the summer and will need to obtain updated visas to return to the U.S. Also, in anticipation of the start of the school year and the October 1 effective date of this fiscal year’s allotment of H-1B visas, many foreign nationals relocating to the U.S. will have to process their visas for the first time.
As usual, these factors will likely result in longer wait times at U.S. Consulates abroad for visa appointments this summer. But proposed changes in visa processing procedures, collectively referred to as “extreme vetting” by the Trump administration, will very likely exacerbate delays. Most recently, by notice dated May 4, 2017, the Department of State proposed the use of a new form, Form DS-5535, to collect additional information from visa applicants who have been determined to require additional scrutiny (the proposed form is under comment and review).
While it is too soon to say exactly what impacts these new procedures will have, we do know that applicants may be required to provide much more information. Specifically, applicants could be asked to:
- hand over their phones so that consular officers can examine their contacts and correspondence;
- provide their social media handles so that public posts can be viewed;
- provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses for the last five years;
- provide the names and dates of birth for all siblings, children and current and former spouse(s) or civil and domestic partners; and
- provide 15 years of travel history (including source of funding for travel), employment history and residential addresses.
In discussing these potential requirements, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said when he testified before Congress in February, “If they don’t want to give us that information, then they don’t come.” This is consistent with the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s direction in a recent cable to consular officers that they not hesitate to refuse a visa application.
While the new vetting procedures will not be required of all visa applicants, the logical result of course for all visa applicants is longer wait times for visa appointments, increased denials for some applicants and possible delays in visa issuance if consular officers determine there is a need to conduct additional reviews. Those needing to apply for visas to travel to the U.S. this summer should do so with as much lead-time as possible and should be prepared for delays as the Department of State implements these new procedures.