Washington, March 24 (IANS) The Trump administration is making it tougher for millions of visitors to enter the US by demanding new security checks before giving visas to tourists, business travellers and relatives of American residents.
Diplomatic cables sent last week from Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to all American embassies instructed consular officials to broadly increase scrutiny. It was the first evidence of the "extreme vetting" Trump promised during the presidential campaign, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
The new rules do not apply to citizens of 38 countries, including most of Europe and longstanding allies like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, who can be speedily admitted into the US under the visa waiver programme.
That programme does not cover citizens from any country in the Middle East or Africa.
Even stricter security checks for people from six predominantly Muslim nations -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- remain on hold because federal courts have temporarily blocked Trump's travel ban.
Embassy officials must now scrutinise a broader pool of visa applicants to determine if they pose security risks to the US, according to four cables sent between March 10 and March 17, said the report.
That extra scrutiny will include asking applicants detailed questions about their background and making mandatory checks of social media history if a person has ever been in territory controlled by the Islamic State.
Trump has spoken regularly of his concern about the threat of "radical Islamic terrorism" from immigrants. But it is unclear who, exactly, will be targeted for the extra scrutiny since Tillerson's cables leave that decision up to security officers at each embassy.
Consular officials and immigration advocates said the administration's moves will increase the likelihood of denial for those seeking to come to America, and will further slow down a bureaucratic approval process that can already take months or even years for those flagged for extra investigation.
In 2016, the US issued more than 10 million visas.
There are legitimate reasons someone might be targeted, such as due to an evidence of a connection to terrorism or crime. But advocates also said they worry about people being profiled for extra scrutiny because of their name or nationality.
"Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns," Tillerson wrote in the cables.
"All visa decisions are national security decisions," he added.
The President's first attempt to put tougher screening in place was the executive order aimed at temporarily blocking refugees and people whom Trump called "bad dudes" from predominantly Muslim countries.
Courts blocked the first version of the President's order after a chaotic rollout just days into his term. A second order was blocked this month.