President Donald Trump has issued an executive order striking the 80-percent/three-week goal for interviewing nonimmigrant visa applicants following submission of applications.
Since September 11, 2001, the State Department has given priority to security over quick visa adjudications. For many reasons, including heightened security, between 2001 and 2010, the U.S. share of the global tourism market had dropped markedly. The Obama Administration, concerned about the effect on the U.S. economy, took measures to “support a prosperous and secure travel and tourism industry in the United States.” The first steps were in 2010, when the National Export Initiative and the Travel Promotion Act became law. They mandated intergovernmental cooperation to work to establish a stronger brand identity for the U.S. and to promote exports. By 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to continue the process of fostering more tourism and travel: Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness Order. One section ordered Consulates to “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations . . . may dictate specific exceptions[.]”
Although the Obama EO contained a security waiver, on June 21, 2017, Trump signed his own EO, striking the 80 percent/three-week goal. This is being done in conjunction with the travel ban partially reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court and the extreme vetting procedures instituted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Pursuant to extreme vetting, if deemed necessary to determine eligibility, visa applicants may be asked to supply:
- Travel history during the last 15 years, including source of funding for travel;
- Address history during the last 15 years;
- Employment history during the last 15 years;
- All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;
- Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
- Names and dates of birth for all children;
- Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
- Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years; and
- Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.
Assessing this amount of information and data obviously will take time. A White House spokesman stated that the elimination of the “arbitrary” three-week goal was needed because “[t]he president expects careful, accurate vetting of visa applicants, not a rushed process . . . .”
Business groups already troubled about possible deleterious effects from the travel ban and extreme vetting have expressed concern about additional delays in visa issuance. According to State Department’s own data, the nonimmigrant visa issuance rate has been dropping. In March, 907,166 were issued and the number was down to 735,000 in April.