State Department Tightens Rules for Visas to U.S.
The State Department is giving immigration and consular officials new grounds to deny entry to visitors to the United States or to kick them out if they are already here.
In a cable to American embassies around the world, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson wrote that visitors who require a visa before entering the United States must then follow through on their stated plans for at least three months. If in that period they do something they failed to mention in an interview with a consular official — such as marry an American citizen, go to school or get a job — it will be presumed that they have deliberately lied.
That would make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to renew a visa, get a new one or change their status. And if they were still in the United States, it would make those visitors eligible for deportation.
Changes of plans that occur after three months may still be problematic but are not presumed to be the result of “willful misrepresentation,” the cable said. Under previous rules, a change in plans was deemed to be misrepresentation only for the first month after arrival in the United States.
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“If someone comes to the U.S. as a tourist, falls in love and gets married within 90 days and then applies for a green card, this means the application would be denied,” said Diane Rish, the associate director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “This is a significant policy change.”In 2016, the United States issued more than 10 million visas, helping to support a large tourism industry. But the new rule does not generally apply to citizens of 38 countries — including most of Europe and longstanding allies like Australia, New Zealand and Japan — who do not need a visa or an explicit travel, business or educational plan before coming to the United States.
Most people from the Middle East, Africa and much of Asia do need a visa, however, and consular decisions about who gets the precious documents are among the greatest sources of tensions between the United States and these nations. In some foreign countries, hundreds line up daily outside American embassies and consulates to apply.
Travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries who have been banned from entry to the United States under an order that the Supreme Court partially allowed to go into effect in June would not be affected since they cannot receive a visa under almost any circumstances.
The new rules are part of a broad push by the Trump administration to crack down not only on illegal immigration but also to tighten restrictions on legal immigration. Earlier this month, President Trump moved to end an Obama-era program shielding from deportation about 800,000 young adults brought to the United States illegally as children, calling on Congress to find a way to continue it.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which generally advocates stricter immigration rules, said his group supported the new rule.
“It’s an effort to prevent people from abusing the legal immigration process,” Mr. Mehlman said. “The burden of proof should be on the people who say their plans have changed.”
But Ms. Rish said that a lot could change in three months for a young visitor, and that presuming that such changes arose from a deliberate lie is draconian.