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Reports: State Department Tightens Visa Approval Policies in Islamic States

Officials at the Department of State are quietly tightening oversight of visa approvals in many foreign countries, including many Islamic countries, even as pro-immigration groups press judges to block the president’s new immigration policies.

The new administrative policy was revealed by leaks to Reuters and to the New York Times, which reported March 23 that:

Diplomatic cables sent last week from Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to all American embassies instructed consular officials to broadly increase scrutiny. It was the first evidence of the “extreme vetting” Mr. Trump promised during the presidential campaign. 

The new rules generally do not apply to citizens of 38 countries — including most of Europe and longstanding allies like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea — who can be speedily admitted into the United States under the visa waiver program. That program does not cover citizens from any country in the Middle East or Africa…

… Mr. Trump and his national security team are not waiting to toughen the rules to decide who can enter the United States. Embassy officials must now scrutinize a broader pool of visa applicants to determine if they pose security risks to the United States, according to four cables sent between March 10 and March 17.

The leaked agency instructions to staff can be read here.

The security-minded tone is highlighted by statements such as “this nation cannot delay the immediate implementation of additional heightened screening and vetting protocols and procedures for issuing visas to ensure that we strengthen the safety and security of our country… Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case [request for visas] presenting security concerns.”

One document says the changes are needed to prevent “the entry into the United States of foreign nationals who may aid, support, or commit violent, criminal, or terroristic acts: and … ensuring the proper collection of all information necessary to rigorously evaluate all grounds of inadmissibility or deportability, or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits.”

Embassy officials who approval the award of visas are now expected to ask applicants for the travel history over the prior 15 years, their telephone numbers, their email addresses and social-media names used during the prior five years. 

People from Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Somalia and Libya face ever tougher scrutiny, according to the directions. 

The rules are being implemented, even though pro-immigration lawyers have persuaded progressives judges in Hawaii and Maryland that the courts should block the president’s immigration policies. Justice Department officials are now appealing the Maryland judge’s decision. 

Advocates for greater immigration panned the new pro-American visa rules. 

According to Reuters

“Most posts already have populations that they look at for fraud and security issues,” said Jay Gairson, a Seattle-based immigration attorney who has many clients from countries that would be affected by Trump’s travel ban.

“What this language effectively does is give the consular posts permission to step away from the focused factors they have spent years developing and revising, and instead broaden the search to large groups based on gross factors such as nationality and religion.”

Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer, predicted delays in getting visas. 

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