US visa: Indians who visited IS ‘territory’ Syria, Iraq on vetting list

WASHINGTON: The process of getting an American visa, strenuous at the best of times, is likely to get more painstaking following fresh directives from the Trump administration to its consular officials worldwide to identify ”populations warranting increased scrutiny” for enhanced vetting.

In a series of four cables sent out by Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, US missions across the world have been instructed to convene working groups of law enforcement and intelligence officials to ”develop a list of criteria” to identify such groups.

One criterion appears to be if the person has traveled to or lived in territory controlled by the Islamic State.

Such a loosely defined yardstick could affect tens of thousands of Indians who – for economic and business reasons — have been to or worked in countries such as Iraq, Libya, and Syria, where the ISIS is deemed to control territory.

Such applicants, one of the cables enjoins, need to be subjected to enhanced vetting, including scrutiny of the applicant’s travel history, addresses, and work history for 15 years, and all phone numbers, email addresses and social media handles used in the past five years.

While some immigration experts feel the new directives will not substantially add to the scrutiny already in effect, addition of red-flagged travel spots and social media scrutiny could simply add to the time taken to process the visas, particularly since the State Department advisories put the onus on consular officials to institute enhanced vetting.

”Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns,” Secretary Tillerson wrote in the cables. ”All visa decisions are national security decisions.”

The language is no different than that used by previous administrations but the focus on social media, itself a very broad, nebulous, and ever-shifting terrain, could make the job of consular officials more difficult, causing them to err on the side of caution.

”Ultimately, most visa applicants are unlikely to see much change from previous visa adjudication practices as a result of these cables. Consular officers already closely scrutinized applicants for potential security threats. However, the cables do illustrate a renewed focus on the vetting of visa applicants by the DOS, including the potential review of visa applicants’ social media, Maryland-based Murthy law firm, which processes visa and immigration issues, said in a cautious advisory.

The United States issues more than 10 million non-immigrant visas each year, including more than a million to Indian citizens for tourism, business, and education.

Select Language:

EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program

EB-5 gives investors an opportunity to rapidly obtain a green card in exchange for making qualifying, job-creating investments in the United States.

For more details about EB-5 Program please download our Brochure