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Rex Tillerson to attend North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting after all

25 March 2017

In a series of memorandums sent to US embassies, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered a glimpse of what President Trump's promised "extreme vetting" will mean for visa applicants when put into practice.

The officials will ask the applicant's travel history, addresses and work history for 15 years; and all phone numbers, email addresses and social media handles used by the applicant in the past five years during the interview.

Social media is rarely screened by USA consular officials when considering visas, and could lengthen the processing time in Middle Eastern embassies.

"Most posts already have populations that they look at for fraud and security issues", Seattle-based immigration lawyer Jay Gairson, who represents clients from countries targeted by Mr. Trump's travel bans, told Reuters.

The Trump administration has instructed all its diplomatic missions worldwide to identify certain groups that need extra scrutiny and adopt a rigorous vetting process for issuing visas. The news about the cables was first reported by Reuters.

The heightened security includes extensive background checks on applicants including mandatory social media checks and extensive questioning. The secretary of state issued the memo after a Hawaii judge blocked the Trump administration's revised travel ban on citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries. Even if the applicant otherwise qualifies for a visa, those identified as meeting the criteria would require additional scrutiny and possible denial.

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Per the same memo, visa applicants that fall within one of these identified population groups should be considered for higher-level security screening.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for wider social media screening for those seeking to enter the us, saying that such checks could help to spot possible links to terrorist activity.

"Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns", Tillerson wrote in the cables, dated mid-March.

Some former officials and immigration attorneys cautioned that delving deeper into applicants' social media use could significantly lengthen processing time of visas.

Reuters exclusively reported on Monday that Tillerson had decided not to attend his first meeting with the ministers, originally scheduled for April 5-6 - raising fears about the new USA administration's commitment to the military alliance.

Tillerson's memos appear to anticipate some delays, noting that the new screening process "may cause interview appointment backlogs to rise", and urge consular officials to reduce the number of visa interviews each day.