President Donald Trump’s travel ban may soon extend to many more countries under new visa procedures described in a State Department cable to consulates.
The new consular guidance, which the State Department sent out Wednesday, follows through on Trump’s March 6 executive order, which called for a worldwide review of visa security measures by the Department of Homeland Security.
It’s unclear whether the cable’s strict vetting procedures will eventually supplant the administration’s ban on travel from six majority-Muslim countries — which was intended to be temporary — or whether even more restrictive vetting will be devised for those countries. The Supreme Court on June 26 allowed the travel ban to go forward, with certain restrictions. It will hear arguments on the ban’s legality in the fall.
The tighter standards for granting visas will be implemented over a 50-day period, according to the cable. If nations do not comply after that time, "designated categories" of travelers from those countries could be banned from the U.S., the cable said.
Among the new requirements are biometric images on passports and for countries to provide the U.S. with additional biographical information about travelers, including criminal records. The new guidance will also require, as a potential condition of accepting visitors from a given country, that the country accept all nationals that the U.S. wishes to deport to that country.
The cable asks consular officials to explain the plan to each foreign government, and provides talking points.
“Underscore that while it is not our goal to impose a ban on immigration benefits, including visas, for citizens of any country, these standards are designed to mitigate risk, and failure to make progress could lead to security measures by the [U.S. government],” the cable states.
A U.S. official familiar with the issue complained that the cable left the impression that “the standards are so high that most countries won’t meet them.”
“As you see in the cable, it reviews things like how sure governments are that people applying for their passports, and thus our visas, are who they say they are,” the official said, adding that it would be hard for countries to do that for every traveler.
Leon Fresco, a prominent immigration attorney, said the rules will require countries to create a technological infrastructure that they may not be able to afford, such as a comprehensive database on lost or stolen passports. He said that some countries in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program — which allows travel to the United States without a visa — won’t be able to meet all the requirements.
But there may be some room to maneuver. The cable directs consulates to tell countries in some instances that instead of taking action, they may start developing a plan to do so. It may come down to case-by-case decisions.
“They’re trying to build in flexibility, but to the extent that they want to keep the ban, they have that flexibility, too,” said Fresco, who previously served in the Department of Justice.
The State Department said Thursday that security measures frequently evolve, but declined to comment on the cable.
“The U.S. government’s national security screening and vetting procedures for visitors are constantly reviewed and refined to improve security and more effectively identify individuals who could pose a threat to the United States,” a State Department official said. “We welcome every opportunity to continue to review and improve our systems and procedures.”