Increased Scrutiny for Identified Populations & Social Media Review
We continue to see immigration as a moving target with recent news of four cables issued by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson guiding implementation of increased security protocols and vetting for consular posts around the world. Secretary Tillerson issued initial cables March 10 and 15 in anticipation of the new Travel Ban which took effect March 16. In response to the federal court action in Hawaii staying implementation of the new Executive Order, he followed these with a third cable March 16 rescinding large portions of his initial communications. Finally Tillerson sent a fourth cable March 17 providing final revised guidance on policy for vetting identified populations and increased social media checks.
The March 17 guidance directs consular officers to identify populations “warranting increased scrutiny” and also implements a “mandatory social media check” for certain individuals based upon time spent in Islamic State-controlled territories. Although we have seen a slight increase in review of social media in recent years, it is less common than one may believe. Consular officers have indicated that they rarely engage in deep screening due the large volume of social media available and the corresponding time it takes to review the information. In addition to new social media directives, the fourth and final cable also leaves in place direction to “develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny.” While a list of specific questions to ask of individuals from identified countries was rescinded with the March 16 and 17 cables so as to comply with existing law, the general directive remains.
With the exception of the two directives above, consular officials have indicated that the guidance provided in the most recent cable may not stray far from current practice, as visa applications already go through a demanding vetting process. That being said, we do anticipate these new directives will increase visa processing times in many countries. We encourage employers and those planning to travel for visa processing purposes to plan accordingly.