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New Consular Questionnaire Means More Rigorous Vetting of Certain Visa Applicants

Armed with a supplemental questionnaire, DS-5535, consular officers around the world have started more intensive vetting of some visa applicants — including requests for their social media handles (user name) — in an effort to block potential terrorists and other national security threats from entering the country. DS-5535 was rolled out as a temporary “emergency” measure in late May and is authorized to remain in effect until November. However, it is expected to be updated and made permanent.

The three-page supplemental questionnaire asks a subset of visa applicants for expanded information, including:

  • Address history during the last 15 years;
  • Employment history during the last 15 years;
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
  • Names 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. Requests for names and dates of birth of siblings and, for some applicants, children are new. In one of the more controversial questions, applicants are asked for their user names on all social media accounts they have used in the last five years. Regarding travel history, applicants may be requested to provide details of their international or domestic (within their country of nationality) travel, if it appears to the consular officer that the applicant has been in an area while the area was under the operational control of a terrorist organization as defined by law. Applicants may be asked to recount or explain the details of their travel, and when possible, provide supporting evidence. Though responding is voluntary and “not necessarily” a rationale for visa denial, the questionnaire advises that not providing answers could cause a delay in processing. The State Department estimates that about 65,000 of 13 million visa applicants every year could be subjected to the extra scrutiny.