The U.S. Department of State has received emergency approval from the Office of Management and Budget to collect additional information regarding certain visa applicants’ travel and employment histories, familial connections, and social media usage in accordance with a notice it posted in the Federal Register May 4. The approval from OMB is for six months rather than the usual three years.
Fifty-five academic groups sent a joint letter expressing concern about the supplemental questioning, saying it is "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" and that the extra questions "could lead to unacceptably long delays in processing, which are particularly harmful to applicants with strict activity time frames or enrollment deadlines." In the Federal Register notice, the State Department estimated that 0.5 percent of visa applicants would be subjected to the additional questioning.
“This is not a revolutionary action; it’s an evolutionary action,” Edward Ramotowski, the acting principal deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs at the State Department, said Thursday during a session on visas at the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference in Los Angeles. “Over time, over many years, the visa-application process has been modernized. It’s been made all electronic, and the amount of data points that we’ve been collecting has increased.”
“What this new process is doing is simply expanding the number of data points we are checking.” Ramotowski described social media as “the new frontier of security vetting.”