Proposed changes to Form DS-160 would include aspects of “extreme vetting” in all nonimmigrant visa applications. The public has until May 29, 2018, to submit comments to the Trump Administration proposal.

Visa applicants would be required to submit five years of social media handles on specific platforms and five years of phone numbers and email addresses, information on international travel, and any family history of involvement in terrorism. Diplomatic-type visa applicants would be exempted from this collection.

Critics, raising privacy grounds concerns, note such changes may have a chilling effect on the rights of freedom of speech and association of U.S. citizens as well as foreign-born individuals.

The Administration argues that asking these questions is necessary for national security. The changes are in line with one of President Donald Trump’s early executive orders: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, also known as the Travel Ban Executive Order, and his Presidential Memo on Enhanced Vetting Protocols and Procedures for Visas and Other Immigration Benefits. With that Memo, the President ordered the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, to “implement protocols and procedures as soon as practicable that in their judgment will enhance the screening and vetting of applications for visas and all other immigration benefits, so as to increase the safety and security of the American people.” The new procedures were to focus, in part, on “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.”

Additional security questions were first introduced by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as optional. In cables to the Consulates, Tillerson advised the officers that, at their discretion, they may choose to use additional questions to screen certain populations that might raise security concerns. The DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants, was introduced for that purpose.

Although the DS-5535 is more detailed, making additional screening questions mandatory for all nonimmigrant visa applicants likely will slow the visa process.

Please contact Jackson Lewis if you have any questions or would like assistance in submitting comments.