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State Dept. moves to make 'extreme vetting' program permanent

In May, the Trump Administration announced the release of a new questionnaire that would be administered to some applicants for U.S. visas. The questionnaire was meant to provide more detailed information on any visa applicants consular officials felt warranted additional scrutiny.

The questionnaire asks for more and more detailed information than had been requested in the past. And, while it is technically voluntary, the State Department said that failing to fill it out could result in processing delays or even denial of a visa.

By law, the Office of Management and Budget generally must approve any new requests for information from the public made by the federal government. When the questionnaire was first issued, the OMB only approved it on an emergency basis for six months.

Yesterday, the State Department moved to make the form a regular feature of visa processing for the next three years, at least. It took the first legal step to do so by publishing a notice in the Federal Register.

Is this questionnaire really necessary? Is it being used discriminatorily?

The information sought on questionnaire is quite extensive. It asks for all previous passport numbers, five years' worth of phone numbers, email addresses and social media handles, and a full 15 years of biographical information such as physical addresses, employment history, and travel history.

A State Department official interviewed by Reuters declined to say whether the form had been targeted at specific groups or how many people have been required to use it. He did say that the department estimates about 65,000 visa applicants each year "will present a threat profile" warranting the use of the form.

Unlike the Trump travel ban, the extreme vetting questionnaire was not directly targeted at specific nationalities. However, Reuters contacted several immigration lawyers who represent clients from Iran, Iraqis, Libyans, and individuals from countries not covered by the travel ban. All of them said they had clients who were asked to fill out the questionnaire. Some were applying for visitors visas.

"It could be that everyone is missing another consequence of the use of the form - its deployment in a far wider sense to cover all sorts of individuals," said one of the attorneys.

If you are applying for any type of visa to the U.S., you might be subject to this extensive vetting. If so, we recommend contacting an experienced immigration lawyer who can help you.

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