The Trump administration is reviewing possible “extreme vetting” procedures for foreign nationals who visit the U.S., according to various reports this week.
Administration officials told The Wall Street Journal that they are evaluating whether to require foreign travelers seeking to visit the U.S. to hand over their cell phone contacts and social media passwords. The potential changes could affect countries that are currently part of the Visa Waiver Program, which includes most of Europe and other traditional allies like Australia and Japan.
“If there is any doubt about a person’s intentions coming to the United States, they should have to overcome – really and truly prove to our satisfaction – that they are coming for legitimate reasons,” a counselor to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told The Journal.
In addition to phone checks and scrutinizing visitors’ online accounts, U.S. officials could also be asking foreign visitors questions about their ideology.
President Trump talked frequently as a candidate for president last year about the need for “extreme vetting” to combat the threat of terrorism on U.S. soil. The Trump administration is currently fighting a legal battle over its proposed travel ban for travelers from six mostly-Muslim nations. The administration’s revised order would also suspend all refugee admissions for 120 days. The new travel ban had been scheduled to take effect last month, but has been indefinitely blocked by a federal court in Hawaii. The Justice Department has appealed the injunction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear the case in May.
If allowed to take effect, the travel ban and resulting perceptions of the U.S. as an unwelcoming destination could cost the country $18 billion in lost tourism dollars over the next two years, according to projections cited by USA Today.
ASAE is supportive of appropriate screening procedures but is concerned that the changes proposed by the administration are excessive and would discourage business travel and tourism to the U.S.
“Security is vitally important in our nation’s airports and at our borders, but asking tourists and business travelers to hand over their phones and social media passwords absent any reasonable suspicion sounds extreme, as does questioning travelers about their ideology,” said ASAE President and CEO John Graham, FASAE. CAE. “ASAE has continued to stress that a balance must be struck between the need for appropriate vetting standards and the need to facilitate legitimate travel to the U.S.”