As part of his ongoing extreme vetting effort, President Trump recently rolled out a new supplementary questionnaire. While many have touted the questionnaire as invasive or overly burdensome, others believe it’s the key to limiting the risk that comes with visa programs. While these programs are designed to improve our economy and create a more inclusive atmosphere, it must be admitted that they come with their own risks. That’s why the new supplementary questionnaire is designed to look deeper into a person’s background, to get a better overall view of their potential risk.

It’s important to note that not everyone will be required to fill out the supplementary forms. After all, these questionnaires are quite extensive, so it’s important to temper better investigations with efficiency. Part of this will involve better triaging, so the questionnaire can be used to do what it’s designed for: to eliminate threats in the visa program.

How the New Questionnaire Changes Visa Screening

The new questionnaire, titled DS-5535 – Supplementary Questions For Visa Applicants, is designed to delve further into the background of individuals who might have issues in their backgrounds. Specific criteria for who will need to fill out this form is not given. Instead, it’s simply noted that the form will be required from “immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.” Aside from the standard visa questions, these individuals will now be asked to provide:

  • Social media information – This is probably one of the biggest changes. Individuals who fill out the form will be required to submit five years’ worth of social media handles, though passwords are not demanded.
  • Email addresses – This goes hand in hand with the new social media account requirement, in that emails will be required for all work, personal, and educational accounts for the past five years.
  • Employers and job titles – While this was part of the old form, this form expands the period, requiring 15 years of information.
  • Prior passport information – This is required to establish any prior travel to regions which may have been under terrorist control.
  • Family information – Information regarding siblings, spouses, domestic partners, and others both living and deceased is required to be disclosed.

While much of this sounds burdensome, it’s actually designed to make the visa process more efficient overall by putting the onus on the applicant to prove their history. This way, the agency will be aware of any high-risk activities in someone’s background. It can’t be denied that terrorists use social media to communicate. It can’t be denied that being related to someone with an extremist background is high-risk. That’s why this form is designed to better locate and eliminate these higher-risk visa applications.

The Issues the New Questionnaire Raises

The issue with the new questionnaire is that it puts the onus of answering questions on those who might not have the information available. After all, many of us set up a new email address or social media account never to use it again. As these questionnaires will also impact those seeking tourism visas, this could put a damper on the $6 trillion that tourism brings in every year. Aside from that, there are a few other concerns, including:

  • It’s overly burdensome for visa-issuing authorities – With additional questions comes additional investigation. That means more time must be dedicated to certain applications than others, which could result in a backlog.
  • It could stifle innovation – Part of the visa program set to be more deeply scrutinized is one that covers education and work. That means that people coming into the US with advanced knowledge needed for innovating could be unnecessarily delayed.
  • It’s technically voluntary – While individuals who apply don’t have to fill out the questionnaire, it’s noted that not completing it could result in a delay in receiving a visa.
  • It’s invasive – The ACLU issued an opinion on the new form which indicates they believe the increased scrutiny placed on applicants could blow back onto US citizens. In their letter, they state that the application “disregards the privacy and free speech rights of millions of U.S. citizens and residents.”
  • It’s easy to make mistakes – It’s often very difficult for individuals to remember their emails, social media accounts, passport history and more. As a result, this will likely increase the number of applications with errors on them.

Of course, the solution to these issues is better triaging. The estimates on how many individuals will be asked to fill out these supplemental applications jumps anywhere from 65,000 to 13 million. The form was initially put through on a temporary basis until November, but it’s likely it will be made permanent. To eliminate the burden this form could cause, it’s important to better triage who will need to fill it out in the first place.

Technologies like Remote Risk Assessment could be extremely useful in managing such a major task. Using RRA, visa applicants could be put through an initial automated telephone interview which uses voice-based signals processing technology to help assess risk. Those who measure as higher-risk could be directed to complete the supplementary form, while those who measure as low-risk could be put through faster.

RRA could be a valuable tool in this type of extreme vetting by acting as an easy, automated triage step. This technology works in any language and can be set up in virtually any location. For more information on using RRA, contact Clearspeed.