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U.S. Embassies and Consulates Enhance Vetting of Visa Applicants

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In response to a memorandum issued to United States consulates and embassies around the world by President Trump and his administration on March 6, consular officials at U.S. embassies around the world are now taking tougher measures to enhance security screening of U.S. visa applicants to prevent potential security threats from entering the United States. Enhancing vetting procedures are intended to target individuals from certain “countries of concern” including the six countries of concern listed in the President’s travel ban: Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Iran, as well as others.

Applicants for U.S. visas from “countries of concern” can expect to undergo additional vetting procedures immediately. The U.S. Department of State has been using a supplemental questionnaire called the DS-5535 since May 25, 2017 which asks both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants a series of detailed questions to help consular officials determine whether a visa applicant must go through enhanced vetting to determine whether the individual poses a national security threat, or other potential threat to the United States. The questionnaire has been used as a temporary emergency measure in response to the President’s March memo, which called for enhanced screening of visa applicants, and what he has called “extreme vetting” of foreign nationals admitted to the United States.

The Supplemental Questionnaire for Visa Applicants DS-5535 is unlike the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application and the DS-160 Non-Immigrant Visa Application in that it asks for more extensive information from the visa applicant such as:

  • The visa applicant’s passport and travel history for the last 15 years
  • Details regarding the visa applicant’s travel history including locations visited, dates, source of funds, and length of stay
  • Information regarding the visa applicant’s dual nationalities
  • Information regarding the visa applicant’s siblings and children
  • The visa applicant’s residential addresses for the last 15 years
  • Social media information: requests that the visa applicant provide his or her unique user name for any websites or application they have used to create or share content (photos, video, status updates, etc.) as part of a public profile within the last 5 years  
  • The visa applicant’s employment history for the last 15 years

Although completing the questionnaire is voluntary, visa applicants must be warned that providing false, or misleading information, hiding, or withholding information is a serious offense, that can prevent a foreign national from immigrating to the United States in the future. The DS-5535 questionnaire contains a disclosure warning applicants that they must not provide any willfully false or misleading information, or willfully conceal a material fact. Failure to abide by these disclosures may subject a visa applicant to be permanently excluded from the United States, and criminally prosecuted and/or removed from the United States if admitted.

The questionnaire also contains a disclosure stating that any information provided in the visa application or other information submitted may be shared with other U.S. government agencies, including law enforcement and immigration law enforcement officials.

The DS-5535 questionnaire may be used by immigration officials until November of this year. The Trump administration has stated that they expect to extend the directive and make enhanced visa screening procedures permanent.

Not all applicants will be asked to complete the DS-5535 Supplemental Questionnaire, although it is up to the consular officer’s discretion whether an applicant will be asked to complete the supplemental questionnaire. More likely than not these additional questions will be required of individuals whom the consular officer has determined merit more rigorous vetting. The U.S. Department of State estimates that each year 65,000 of 13 million visa applicants will be affected by the enhanced vetting measures in place.

To read the DS-5535 Questionnaire please click here.

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