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US Orders Tighter Visa Screenings


FILE - Chinese students wait outside the U.S. Embassy for their visa application interviews in Beijing, China.

The U.S. State Department has asked American embassies and consulates around the world to identify certain groups that should get extra scrutiny when they apply for visas.

This directive also instructs U.S. posts overseas to review the social media accounts of visa applicants who are suspected of terrorist ties or of having been in Islamic State group-controlled areas.

The diplomatic cables sent by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson directed embassies to convene security and intelligence working groups to determine "a list of criteria identifying sets of post-applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny."

Even if the applicant otherwise qualifies for a visa, those identified as meeting the criteria would require additional scrutiny and possible denial.

It is the first evidence of the "extreme vetting" of foreigners entering the United States that President Donald Trump promised during his campaign.

Embassy officials must now scrutinize a broader pool of visa applicants to determine if they pose security risks to the United States, according to four cables sent between March 10 and March 17.

The directives, first reported by Reuters, quickly drew criticism from rights groups and others who've accused Trump of discriminating against Muslims through his now-suspended ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries.

Amnesty International on Thursday called for the department to publicize the guidance.

"These measures could provide license for discrimination based on national origin and religion,'' the human rights group said in a letter to Tillerson. "They could provide a pretext for barring individuals based on their nonviolent beliefs and expression. Social media checks, as well as demands for social media passwords at U.S. borders, have significant implications for privacy and freedom of expression.''

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