Integrity Legal

Archive for the ‘US Embassy Thailand’ Category

14th June 2021

It recently came to this blogger’s attention via the website of the US Embassy in Thailand that there is a new policy in place regarding the expired passports of US Citizens. To quote directly from the aforementioned website:

U.S. citizens may directly return to the United States with certain expired U.S. passports.

If you are overseas and your passport expired on or after January 1, 2020, you may be able to use your expired passport to return directly to the United States until December 31, 2021.

You qualify for this exception if all the following are true:

  • You are a U.S. citizen.
  • You are currently abroad seeking direct return to the United States.
  • You are flying directly to the United States, a United States territory, or have only short-term transit (“connecting flights”) through a foreign country on your direct return to the United States or to a United States Territory.
  • Your expired passport was originally valid for 10 years. Or, if you were 15 years of age or younger when the passport was issued, your expired passport was valid for 5 years.
  • Your expired passport is undamaged.
  • Your expired passport is unaltered.
  • Your expired passport is in your possession.

You do not qualify for this exception if:

  • You wish to depart from the United States to an international destination.
  • You are currently abroad seeking to travel to a foreign country for any length of stay longer than an airport connection en route to the United States or to a United States territory.
  • Your expired passport was limited in validity.
  • Your expired passport is a special issuance passport (such as a diplomatic, official, service, or no-fee regular passport).
  • Your expired passport is damaged.
  • Your expired passport is altered.
  • Your expired passport is not in your possession…

This is a major departure from standard procedures regarding American passports. Those keenly interested in this issue are advised to click the link above to read the entire announcement. Clearly, the United States Embassy in Thailand is attempting to provide solutions to Americans abroad who have seen their passports expire as the duration of the Thai government’s response to the COVID situation drags on. Although this is something of an “ad hoc” initiative the State Department’s policy is laudable as it creates flexibility for many Americans abroad who otherwise would be unable to return home.

Meanwhile, Thai Immigration policy continues to evolve. There has been significant progress made with regard to the proposed “Phuket Sandbox” initiative which, once implemented, would allow travelers to be admitted to Phuket, Thailand without being required to quarantine in their hotel for 14 days. However, there are been a number of developments in recent weeks which appear both positive and negative. For example, the following was noted in a recent article on ThaiVisa.com:

Over 50 percent of foreigners who had confirmed they would visit Phuket as part of the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ project have now cancelled their plans, Thailand’s tourism minister has said. Pipat Ratchakitprakarn, Minister of Tourism and Sports, told Spring News that after the Center for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) increased the minimum period of stay from 7 days to 14 days, 29,700 foreigners have now cancelled plans to visit Phuket. Under the Phuket Sandbox scheme, vaccinated foreigners do not need to be quarantined in a hotel room, but they are required to remain in Phuket before travelling to other provinces in Thailand…

The fluidity of regulations pertaining to the sandbox initiative seems to be alienating a number of otherwise interested travelers. Meanwhile, ThaiVisa.com went on to note that:

The Phuket Sandbox project, the launch of which is best described as chaotic, suffered another blow last week after it was announced that bars and pubs in Phuket would remain closed when the first tourists start arriving from July 1.

It seems immigration and quarantine policy are not the only obstacles standing in the way of substantial tourist numbers returning. It should be noted that the Phuket initiative has yet to be brought online so it remains to be seen if the “sandbox” plan will actually be implemented. It seems prudent to infer based upon comments from relevant Thai government officials that the sandbox program will be implemented. However, the popularity of such a plan remains to be seen. Presently, those arriving in other parts of Thailand, including Bangkok and Chiang Mai, are required to undergo 14 days of alternative state quarantine (ASQ) before being released. This quarantine pertains not only to foreign tourists, but also to those entering Thailand on non-immigrant visas such as the business visa, retirement visa, marriage visa as well as Thai nationals and permanent residents. The end date for quarantine enforcement in Thailand remains to be seen.

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24th May 2021

The overall posture of American immigration has improved considerably since the beginning of 2021. With the transition to a new administration there have been a number of changes in how immigration cases are processed. As noted previously, the public charge rule has reverted back to pre-Trump criteria. Concurrently, it appears the current administration has rolled back a potentially disturbing policy regarding collection of biometric data from not only intending immigrants to the United States, but American petitioners and sponsors as well. Presently, there are a number of backlogs holding up cases at various points in the US immigration process. For example, processing times at USCIS are longer overall. Meanwhile issues at the National Visa Center are prolonging case processing. Finally, the US Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand has had to postpone a number of appointments citing the COVID situation. Although it seems the Embassy is prioritizing family based Immigrant Visa Unit matters over the non-immigrant visa unit as some level of priority seems to be conferred to cases such as applications for the K-1 visa (for fiances of America citizens) and the marriage visa cases (K-3, IR-1, and CR-1 visas). There does seem to be some hope on the horizon that things will start looking better as this administration does not seem as intent on being deliberately obtuse with respect to processing immigration cases.

Turning to Thai immigration news, the situation in Thailand has turned less positive since April and the upshot in an immigration context is the re-extension of the quarantine time in Thailand. As of the time of this writing, all travelers (including those vaccinated) arriving in Thailand are required to undergo a 14 day quarantine. On a more general note, Thailand remains under a state of pseudo-lockdown which is having a tremendously negative impact upon the SME sector. However, there is hope that things will begin to turn around as the COVID vaccination is rolled out in early June. Key officials in Thailand have also stood firm behind their commitment to reopen Phuket for the “sandbox” initiative in July. This is apparently still moving forward and, as yet, this doesn’t seem likely to be cancelled. That stated, many initiatives (such as “travel bubbles” or reduced quarantine) have been proposed and ultimately shot down or have been rolled out only to be rolled back. Therefore, it is difficult to predict exactly how things will progress moving forward in the course of the next few weeks, but hopefully these days ahead will be better than those recently transpired.

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14th February 2021

Since the last posting on this blog there have been a number of developments and discussions with respect to both Thai and American immigration issues. One development which has received substantial media coverage has been the Executive Orders signed by President Biden with regard to Immigration policy. Of particular note to the administration of this web log was the order titled: Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans. The content of this Executive Order seems designed to impose a new policy paradigm upon the Immigration bureaucracy (or perhaps reimpose of a previously existing paradigm). This effort to change the prevailing paradigm is evidenced in the opening lines of the order itself:

Consistent with our character as a Nation of opportunity and of welcome, it is essential to ensure that our laws and policies encourage full participation by immigrants, including refugees, in our civic life; that immigration processes and other benefits are delivered effectively and efficiently; and that the Federal Government eliminates sources of fear and other barriers that prevent immigrants from accessing government services available to them…The Federal Government should develop welcoming strategies that promote integration, inclusion, and citizenship, and it should embrace the full participation of the newest Americans in our democracy.

Clearly, the administration seeks to re-establish a sense of decorum and compassion tot eh immigration system. The order goes on the delineate as to more concrete steps toward those ends:

Sec. 3.  Restoring Trust in our Legal Immigration System.  The Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall review existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (collectively, agency actions) that may be inconsistent with the policy set forth in section 1 of this order.

(a)  In conducting this review, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall:

(i)   identify barriers that impede access to immigration benefits and fair, efficient adjudications of these benefits and make recommendations on how to remove these barriers, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law; and

(ii)  identify any agency actions that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system — such as the final rule entitled, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements,” 85 Fed. Reg. 46788 (Aug. 3, 2020), in light of the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act (title I of division D of Public Law 116-159) — and recommend steps, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to revise or rescind those agency actions.

(b)  Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall each submit a plan to the President describing the steps their respective agencies will take to advance the policy set forth in section 1 of this order.

(c)  Within 180 days of submitting the plan described in subsection (b) of this section, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall each submit a report to the President describing the progress of their respective agencies towards implementing the plan developed pursuant to subsection (b) of this section and recognizing any areas of concern or barriers to implementing the plan.

It remains to be seen precisely how this will impact the American immigration system, and it should be noted that the apparatus is unlikely to fundamentally change over night. That stated, there is good reason to hope there may be “light at the end of the tunnel” after months of seemingly unnecessary delay and obfuscation in the visa process. There does appear to one area of particular interest to the current administration with respect to US immigration. Namely, there have been a number of issues associated with the “Public Charge rule” and prior to the issue of COVID-19 coming to the forefront of immigration analysis, public charge was shaping up to be a significant obstacle for a number of family based immigration cases (including, but not limited to: the K-1 visa, the K-3 visa, the CR-1 visa, and the IR-1 visa categories). The recently promulgated order seems to take this issue seriously:

The Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the heads of other relevant agencies, as appropriate, shall review all agency actions related to implementation of the public charge ground of inadmissibility in section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4), and the related ground of deportability in section 237(a)(5) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(5).  They shall, in considering the effects and implications of public charge policies, consult with the heads of relevant agencies, including the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

(a)  This review should:

(i)    consider and evaluate the current effects of these agency actions and the implications of their continued implementation in light of the policy set forth in section 1 of this order;

(ii)   identify appropriate agency actions, if any, to address concerns about the current public charge policies’ effect on the integrity of the Nation’s immigration system and public health; and

(iii)  recommend steps that relevant agencies should take to clearly communicate current public charge policies and proposed changes, if any, to reduce fear and confusion among impacted communities.

(b)  Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall each submit a report to the President describing any agency actions identified pursuant to subsection (a)(ii) of this section and any steps their agencies intend to take or have taken, consistent with subsection (a)(iii) of this section.

It seems the administration is particularly keen to address the difficulties imposed by rules changes pertaining to public charge and hopefully some revision of the rules may be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, although there has not been a great deal of substantive change to current immigration policy in Thailand, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding possible policy changes to in an effort to revitalize the Thai tourism sector which, depending upon the source, seems to have seen between 1-3 million layoffs since the response to the pandemic began. Once solution discussed has been the notion of a “vaccine passport” or “immunity passport“. Essentially, this notion centers upon the idea that those who can prove they have been inoculated against COVID-19, via one of the many vaccinations currently on the market, will be allowed to travel to Thailand without the need to quarantine in one of the alternative state quarantine (ASQ) facilities. Notwithstanding the fact that there has ben a great deal of discussion on this matter, it currently appears, as with the so-called “travel bubble” scheme, that this program will not be implemented any time soon. As the tourism sector in Thailand languishes, long stay tourists may avail themselves to special tourist visas or standard TR visas to stay in Thailand. Furthermore, the Thai retirement visa remains a viable option for those wishing to travel to Thailand for retirement purposes.

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5th January 2021

As 2021 dawned the situation in Thailand, specifically the response to COVID-19, deteriorated. Presently, in place of full lockdowns, much of Thailand is operating under a system of provincial imposition of “highly controlled area” status which is restricting many operations many people once took for granted. How has this impacted the immigration system? Initially, it seemed this turn of events would not impact prospects for gaining admission to Thailand. Then, it appeared that those from the UK might be restricted from arriving in Thailand. To quote directly from the Bangkok Post:

The Ministry of Public Health will ask the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to defer the entry of British visitors to the country after the fast-spreading B117 strain of Covid-19 was found in four British nationals entering Thailand on Dec 21.

This caused a great deal of consternation especially among those seeking Thai visas from the Embassy in the UK. However, further deliberation seems to have resulted in the decision that arrivals from the United Kingdom will not be impeded. Quoting directly from The Nation:

Thailand’s measures to control the spread of Covid-19 are strong enough to not warrant special measures against travellers from the United Kingdom, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Thanee Saengrat said.

Based upon the above information, it seems logical to presume that the overall situation regarding foreign nationals arriving in Thailand remains much as it did prior to the new year. Meanwhile, a number of travelers are finding that trying to process their Thai visa application on their own from abroad is a cumbersome endeavor. The overall process of gaining lawful admission to Thailand is greatly changed compared to times past. One major sticking point for many is the addition of the certificate of entry to the process. This document is required in addition to a Thai visa. Concurrently, documentation showing a lack of infection for COVID-19 in addition to fit to fly documentation has proven nettlesome for many. Couple this with the fact that those entering Thailand are still required to undergo Alternative State Quarantine for 14 days prior to gaining total access to the Kingdom. There was some discussion regarding the possibility of seeing the quarantine time frame reduced to 10 days or even less. However, under present circumstances this seems highly unlikely. The notion of “travel bubble” arrangements also being brought online seems unlikely at this time as well.  Although many in Thailand are hopeful that the disbursement of a vaccine may result in a return of tourists in 2021. As of the time of this writing, this remains conjecture.

Turning to American immigration, many have found themselves in a kind of processing “limbo” with respect to cases such as the K-1 fiance visa as well as the various marriage visas including the K-3 visa, CR-1 and IR-1 visa categories. Currently, a large number of cases remain at the National Visa Center and seem unlikely to be processed out for interview soon. There appeared to be hope in the last part of the final quarter of 2020 as some cases were being scheduled for interview, but that hope may be dashed as the current situation in Thailand may result in further interview cancellations. This situation is fluid and still evolving.

Many hope that a transition to a new administration will herald an end to certain arbitrary and capricious aspects of the immigration process in its current form, but it should be noted that it takes time for bureaucracies to change and therefore a Biden presidency may not immediately see major changes to visa case processing in 2021.

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5th November 2020

For those unaware, our firm maintains a Youtube channel in order to provide daily updates regarding Thai, American, and international immigration matters as well as information of a general nature regarding Thai legal issues and legal news for expats.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election in the USA, there has been a question posed: how will the outcome impact American Immigration? As noted in a video on our aforementioned YouTube Channel, it appears that the ultimate result of the election is unlikely to have a dramatic impact upon American visa processing, at least in the near term. As noted in prior postings to this blog, the US government’s response to COVID-19 has resulted in a slowing of case processing at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the National Visa Center (NVC), and US Embassies and Consulates abroad (including the American Embassy in Bangkok). It seems unlikely that even if the government’s administration changes due to the election that we will see faster processing times for immigration cases in the near term. That stated, the situation remains fluid and unforeseen developments could see cases such as K-1 visa applications move with more speed compared to the past months.

The Thai Immigration situation remains fluid as well. Recently, the government terminated the Thai visa amnesty. Concurrently, it appears that some tourists are beginning to return to Thailand using the special tourist visa (STV) scheme. However, the tourist numbers are small compared to numbers in the years leading up to 2020. Thai Immigration and officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seem increasingly keen to allow the return of expats from abroad. The O-A retirement visa category has been prioritized for issuance of certificates of entry (COE) for prospective travelers to Thailand. This is happening as foreign nationals traveling to Thailand in business visa status appear to be on the rise. Those who have a Thai spouse or other family in Thailand can also avail themselves of an O visa in order to enter the Kingdom.

There has been some conjecture that the Thai government may promulgate rules allowing property purchasers to travel to Thailand. This proposal seems to be geared toward increasing the demand for Thai condos. However, these proposals have yet to be taken up by relevant authorities and therefore it remains to be seen whether Thai property ownership will be deemed a sufficient reason for sponsoring a visa and/or certificate of entry for the Kingdom of Thailand.

The entire process for traveling to Thailand remains cumbersome compared to routine protocols. As noted above, a certificate of entry, in addition to a Thai visa, is necessary for one to travel to Thailand. Prospective entrants are also required to obtain fit to fly documentation and remain in alternative state quarantine (ASQ) for 14 days (although there is speculation this may be reduced to 10 days) before being permitted unfettered access to the Kingdom.

 

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8th October 2020

There have been some recent developments with respect to Thai immigration in recent weeks. Notably, the Thai visa amnesty was retroactively extended after ostensibly ending. Concurrently, it now appears that those who hold a Thai retirement visa (specifically an O-A or O-X visa as opposed to an O visa) will now be able to seek a Certificate of Entry to Thailand. There has also been discussion in recent weeks about the notion of decreasing the amount of quarantine that one must undergo when traveling into Thailand. Furthermore, Thai immigration officials have discussed easing travel restrictions for those traveling to Thailand on business as APEC card holders can now seek a COE while there has also been discussion about allowing certain businesspeople into Thailand without the requirement that they hold work permit status. However, implementation on rules regarding this issue remain to be seen. Finally, officials are attempting to bring the new Special Tourist Visa online as fast as they can, but actual practical developments remain to be seen. In short, there seems to be something akin to a “slow thaw” taking place with respect to Thai immigration rules and while things appear to be trending toward further opening of the country there is still a long way to go before normality returns.

Meanwhile, with respect to American immigration there have been some notable developments as the US Embassy in Bangkok has begun processing interviews again for those whose prior interview was cancelled due to the shutdown. It should be noted that interviews are merely being re-scheduled as cases that had not received an interview date prior the shutdown have yet to be scheduled, but the trend seems to be pointing to further interviews occurring in the future. Concurrently, news from inside the United States is not as positive as layoffs related to USCIS funding shortfalls may result in delayed processing times for immigration petitions. It appears likely that certain aspects of the American immigration process are poised to take longer compared to times past, while perhaps other segments of the process may be unaffected or, in limited circumstances, more expedited compared to more routine circumstances.

Amidst all of the turmoil in the immigration world, we are bringing online the Immigator App. Admittedly, the timing is not optimal for an app which assists people in keeping their visas, passport, and immigration documentation organized. However, in many ways it is more important than ever for people to keep careful track of their lawful immigration status and the documentation associated therewith. Therefore, we hope that this free app will assist both clients of our firm and the public at large in navigating the Thai, American, and international immigration systems.

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2nd May 2020

The past 6 weeks have been very eventful in terms of the response to the COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) lock down in Thailand. This crisis has also had a significant impact upon the American visa process. By way of an update, the Thai government has recently announced an easing of restrictions associated with the lock down of business and social interaction in Thailand. It now appears that as of May 3rd, small eateries, parks, hair salons, stores selling certain retail as well as electronic goods, and pet shops will be allowed to reopen. Thai government officials have announced that further phased reopening measures will be implemented in coming weeks should circumstances permit. Concurrently, it was initially announced that the ban on the sale of alcohol in Thailand would be extended throughout the month of May. There was some speculation that a “grace period” would be permitted on Mat 1st and 2nd to allow the public time to “stock up” on alcohol products in anticipation of further restrictions over the forthcoming month.

Shortly after these predictions and the announcement that the ban on alcohol sales would continue, it was announced that retail alcohol sales could recommence beginning May 3rd. Further, it appears that those eateries which maintain an alcohol license and usually sell alcohol in the course of their day-to-day business will be permitted to sell alcohol on a “take-away” basis. Therefore, for the forthcoming days small restaurants and other venues will be reopened to the public and life in Thailand appears to be normalizing somewhat. Notwithstanding these measures, restrictions on pubs and entertainment establishments remain.

While all of this is unfolding in Thailand, in the USA the US immigration system appears to be preparing for further delays associated with the processing of visa cases. The following announcement from USCIS recently came to this blogger’s attention:

On March 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services temporarily suspended routine in-person services to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). USCIS plans to begin reopening our offices on or after June 4, unless the public closures are extended further.

In prior announcements it had been noted that May 4th would be the presumptive date of reopening. It now appears that there will be at least another month delay for in-person services with USCIS. At the same time, the new Immigration Ban remains in effect although it is unlikely to have any impact upon those seeking a K-3 visa, CR-1 visa, IR-1 visa, or K-1 visa from Thailand as the ban specifically excludes spouse visas and only pertains to immigrant visas. Therefore, as a fiance visa is not, by definition, an immigrant visa, the provisions this new ban do not apply to fiances of American citizens. However, notwithstanding the fact that the immigration ban does no directly impact most family based visas from Thailand it is effectively a moot point for the immediately foreseeable future due to the fact that the Immigrant Visa Unit and the Non-Immigrant Visa Unit at the US Embassy in Bangkok are not currently holding visa interviews nor are the issuance immigrant and non-immigrant visa as they remain closed due to the coronavirus. We, in this office, are currently looking at the USCIS presumed reopening date as the best indication of when it seems prudent to presume that the Embassy will reopen for interviews. That stated, the ultimate date of reopening remains to be seen, but we will try to keep you up to date on this blog.

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14th March 2020

We have been trying to keep up on the news regarding Coronavirus (also know as COVID-19) in #Thailand. In prior posts on this blog we noted that a number of countries have had their visa on arrival or 30 day stamp privileges suspended. It now appears that Americans coming to Thailand will need to deal with new protocols upon entry. To quote directly from a recent Health Alert from the US Embassy:

There is an ongoing outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) first identified in Wuhan, China.  The global public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, with more than 145,000 reported cases worldwide. The government of the Kingdom of Thailand has implemented enhanced screening and quarantine measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  On March 13, 2020, the Kingdom of Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health added the United States to its list of countries with ongoing local transmission. Travelers entering the Kingdom of Thailand who have been in the United States within the prior 14 days are subject to self-monitoring and reporting requirements.  There are no mandatory quarantine requirements in effect at this time for travelers arriving from the United States who do not display signs of infection.  Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.  Visit the website of Ministry of Public Health for additional information on these new measures.

We urge readers of this blog to click on the link above to read the complete announcement. Clearly, Thai officials are taking increasingly stringent precautions as the coronavirus pandemic continues to accelerate. It appears officials from the American Embassy will be assisting Americans where possible in the coming days. We will keep readers updated on this blog as the situation evolves.

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6th February 2018

It has recently been announced that the Trump administration is creating a new “National Vetting Center”. The following article is intended to shed light on what this institution is designed to do and how it will fit into the overall immigration process.

It should first be noted that the National Vetting Center should not be confused with the preexisting National Visa Center which acts as a sort of clearing house and central repository for documentation pertaining to visa applications through the Department of State. The National Visa Center’s function is to gather relevant documentation and forward cases to the appropriate US Embassy or US Consulate for visa interview scheduling.

The National Vetting Center would seem to have a different mandate, although not altogether different as both institutions deal with matters pertaining to US Immigration. In an effort to provide further insight it is necessary to cite a recent article from the website of USA Today:

The National Vetting Center will be run by the Department of Homeland Security with assistance from the intelligence community and the departments of State, Justice and Defense. Its mission: To “collect, store, share, disseminate, and use” a broad range of information about people who seek to enter the United States, with a goal of identifying people who may be a threat to national security or public safety. “This is yet another step towards knowing who is coming to the United States — that they are who they say they are and that they do not pose a threat to our nation,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a statement.

Although disregarded by some at the time as overreacting, this blogger has noted in prior discussion of so-called extreme vetting policy that although it was initially discussed in a very narrow geographical and situational context the establishment of the National Vetting Center and the presumption that all future US Immigration processing will involve said institution shows that this policy will have broad ramifications for all visa applicants.

What does this mean for the timing of US visa applications? At this time it is too soon to say whether the addition of National Vetting Center protocols will result in slower processing times. However, it stands to reason that adding an entirely new institutional bureaucracy to the overall immigration framework will result in at least some delays in the processing of petitions and applications.

As has been discussed previously on this blog and through some of our firm’s videos: the Trump administration’s policies with respect to Immigration could have wide ranging and long lasting ramifications for those seeking visas in the future. Furthermore, if a deal can be reached with respect to Comprehensive Immigration Reform it looks as though the era of so-called “chain migration” (allowing extended family of Lawful Permanent Residents and American citizens to seek visa benefits)  and the visa lottery will likely come to an end.

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27th May 2017

It has come to this blogger’s attention that the new administration in the USA has promulgated policies which will place more scrutiny upon those who may be applying for visas to the USA in the future. The proposed “extreme vetting” of US visa applications in a Consular Processing context appears to be aimed at narrow subsets of “red flagged” visa applicants. In order to best summarize this policy shift, it is necessary to quote directly from a relatively recent Reuters article:

The final cable seen by Reuters, issued on March 17, leaves in place an instruction to consular chiefs in each diplomatic mission, or post, to convene working groups of law enforcement and intelligence officials to “develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny.” Applicants falling within one of these identified population groups should be considered for higher-level security screening…

The new administration appears keen to narrowly target those applicants which are deemed to be appropriate for “increased scrutiny”. However, a rather recent proposal has been submitted by the U.S. Department of State requesting implementation of the emergency review procedures of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995. In short, the DOS is requesting expedited processing of a request to modify the forms associated with applications for US visas. To quote directly from the US government website Regulations.gov:

The Department proposes requesting the following information, if not already included in an application, from a subset of visa applicants worldwide, in order to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities:

  • Travel history during the last fifteen years, including source of funding for travel;
  • Address history during the last fifteen years;
  • Employment history during the last fifteen years;
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
  • Name and dates of birth for all children;
  • Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years; and
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.

 

Most of this information is already collected on visa applications but for a shorter time period, e.g. five years rather than fifteen years. Requests for names and dates of birth of siblings and, for some applicants, children are new. The request for social media identifiers and associated platforms is new for the Department of State, although it is already collected on a voluntary basis by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for certain individuals.

It is this blogger’s opinion that the long term implications of these policy changes will be broad. However, from reading the aforementioned notice, it appears that, at the present time, DOS personnel will only be seeking more detailed information on certain individual applicants, and not from all applicants seeking visas to the USA. How will the narrow subset of applicants subject to increased scrutiny be determined? To answer that it is necessary to quote further from the Regulations.gov website:

Department of State consular officers at visa-adjudicating posts worldwide will ask the proposed additional questions to resolve an applicant’s identity or to vet for terrorism or other national security related visa ineligibilities when the consular officer determines that the circumstances of a visa applicant, a review of a visa application, or responses in a visa interview indicate a need for greater scrutiny.

Notwithstanding the fact that enhanced scrutiny will apparently only be applied on a case by case basis and only upon those individuals who are deemed to be in need of such scrutiny it seems logical to infer that at some point these additional screening protocols may be applied on a broader basis; if for no other reason than the fact that applying such scrutiny across the board might save time and resources of Consular Officials making cases by case determinations. As it stands, as of the time of this writing, the new protocols add a degree of uncertainty to the visa application process and Consular processing in general as it is difficult to foresee what may be considered a trait which warrants heightened scrutiny. Therefore, planning for such an eventuality is problematic.

As this situation continues to evolve this blog will post further updates.

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