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More than 50 academic organizations signed a letter registering concerns about proposed changes to the visa vetting process that would subject a certain subset of applicants to enhanced questioning. The U.S. Department of State has proposed requesting from some visa applicants additional information “to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities,” including information relating to applicants’ travel history, address history and employment history -- all for a 15-year period – names and birth dates of relatives, and social media handles and phone numbers used over a five-year period.

The joint letter from 55 higher education and scholarly groups, dated Thursday, argues that the proposed changes to the visa vetting process are “likely to have a chilling effect not only on those required to submit additional information, but indirectly on all international travelers to the United States. The uncertainties and confusion regarding supplemental questions will have a negative impact, particularly on U.S. higher education and scientific collaborations. The notice also provides insufficient information regarding the criteria for identifying those required to complete the supplemental form, the impact of unintentional incomplete disclosure of information, such as social media presence, or remedies for correcting information initially provided. These additional questions could lead to unacceptably long delays in processing, which are particularly harmful to applicants with strict activity time frames or enrollment deadlines. Additionally, there is no information regarding the longer-term use, retention or privacy protections for the information provided.”

The notice from the State Department estimates that about 0.5 percent of all visa applicants -- about 65,000 people each year -- would be subject to the enhanced information requests.