Just How Extreme is “Extreme Vetting”?

Throughout Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign trail, we heard these two words being uttered over and over again like a broken record: extreme vetting. Don’t know what it means or what the implications are? You’re not alone. The extent of confusion surrounding this topic is to the point at which “extreme vetting” lookups on search engines have spiked through the roof. The fact of the matter is that “extreme vetting” is confusing, in the sense that it is difficult to know the full intent behind extreme vetting measures, full implications, and its anticipated effectiveness. Let’s break it down.

What is “extreme vetting” and what does it mean for visa applicants?

At the forefront, “vetting” refers to the screening process potential immigrants and visa applicants undergo that includes extensive background checks, interviews, fingerprinting, and more. This process, especially for refugees, already takes up to two years depending on the type of visa being applied for.

So, can the process get even more “extreme”? Apparently, yes.

As part of the Trump Administration’s extreme vetting efforts, certain visa applicants will now be required to complete a rigorous supplemental questionnaire prior to visa issuance. The information requested in the new, supplemental questionnaire is extensive, and requires disclosure of:

  • the applicant’s full travel history for the past 15 years, including locations visited, dates, and source of funds for the visits;
  • all passport numbers;
  • names and dates of birth of all siblings, children, and spouses/partners;
  • complete address and dates of residence for the past 15 years;
  • employment history for the past 15 years;
  • in certain cases, copy of your bank statements
  • and all social media handles, phone numbers and email addresses

Under Trump’s “extreme vetting”, there will also be more in-person interviews, longer application forms, and stricter security checks. Consequently, this will dramatically increase application processing times.

Furthermore, the Trump administration proposes that there be a test to determine whether or not potential immigrants/visa applicants share “American values” and “embrace a tolerant American society”.

As we wait for such a test to be constructed, the Trump administration equated “extreme vetting” to proposing the infamous travel ban via executive order that would block the entry of foreign nationals for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq. Later on, Trump would amend the order to exclude Iraq from the list.

How are U.S. Embassies/ Consulates Applying “extreme vetting”?

The U.S. Department of State has recently issued a new supplemental questionnaire that will enable officers at U.S. Consulates and Embassies to carry out enhanced and burdensome screenings of certain applicants for nonimmigrant and immigrant visas to the U.S.

Consular officers will not require all visa applicants to complete the supplemental questionnaire. As part of the visa application interview and screening process, consular officers will decide when the individual visa applicant’s background warrants additional security checks. Previous travel by the visa applicant to areas controlled by terrorist groups is expected to make it more likely that the consular officer will request completion of the supplemental questionnaire.

When a consular officer determines that the supplemental questionnaire is necessary, s/he is expected to inform the visa applicant, allow the applicant to complete the supplemental questionnaire offsite and email the completed document so that visa processing may resume. Although the supplemental questionnaire states that providing the requested information is voluntary, failure to provide the requested information will likely result in a denial of the visa application.

Additionally, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has directed U.S. diplomatic missions to identify “populations warranting increased scrutiny” and toughen screening for visa applicants in those groups. Furthermore, he has ordered that embassies/consulates process a mandatory social media check for all applicants who have lived, stayed, or visited in territory controlled by ISIS or other terrorist groups. He has also ordered consular chiefs to convene law enforcement and intelligence officials to “develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny.” As a result of these “extreme vetting” protocols, there is the expectation that U.S. diplomatic missions experience a rise in interview appointment backlogs as well as slower processing times. As a result, more processing personnel and officials will be hired to equip the consulates and embassies with the resources needed to accommodate “extreme vetting”.

Moving Forward

As the course of “extreme vetting” unfolds, there exists “extreme” uncertainties. Is this really a feasible response to uphold national security? Or does this simply make Americans feel safer at the expense of a dignified, private life for foreign nationals? How will all these measures play out in practice? These uncertainties demand that we get educated and active as well as stay on top of things as “extreme vetting” is developed by this administration. We need to push back on policies that are unconstitutional, but also fully comprehend the policies that aren’t, so that we can anticipate and work with every curve ball thrown at the consulates, embassies, and American borders.


**This article is co-authored by Sawsan Selim

Disclaimer: Nothing in relation to the enclosed information should be construed and or considered as legal advice for any individual, entity, case, or situation. The following information is prepared for advertisement use only. The information is intended ONLY to be general and should not be relied upon for any specific situation. For legal advice on your specific situation, we encourage you to consult an attorney experienced in the area of Immigration Law.