Hong Kong and mainland passport holders who are traveling to the United States should anticipate increased visa scrutiny as tighter security checks will soon be implemented.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered a broad increase in visa screenings in American embassies for those entering the United States, SCMP reports.
The instruction, which goes in accordance with President Trump’s policy of “extreme vetting,” is now expected to cause more difficulty for many travelers, but especially towards people from Hong Kong and the mainland.
Tillerson has reportedly been calling for the development of criteria to identify “populations warranting increased security” as revealed in multiple diplomatic cables sent between March 10 and 17.
According to Reuters, the diplomatic memos highlighted security concerns, noting that, “All visa decisions are national security decisions.”
While traveling to the U.S. requires visa applications, embassies are ordered to deny approval from any person who are ”suspected of being a security threat, conducting fraud, or who may plan on staying longer than permitted.”
Although the stricter measures do not apply to the countries currently in the U.S. visa waiver program, Hong Kong and mainland China are unfortunately not included in that list of 38 countries. According to immigration lawyer Gary Chodorow, travelers may expect more security questions, delays in processing visa applications, and increased denial in granting visas.
Chodorow said Tillerson’s call to establish risk criteria might lead to more consular requests for special security clearances known as security advisory opinions.
“We expect that SAOs will be requested in a higher percentage of cases,” he said. “Some SAOs will be requested based on how an applicant fits a profile, such as based on their hometown, profession, ethnicity, and/or religion.”
The diplomatic cables have reportedly ordered embassies to limit the number of visa interviews being processed daily, even if it “may cause interview appointment backlogs to rise”.
Immigration consultant Kent Cai said that since Donald Trump became U.S. president, the U.S. visa application process has become more challenging for many.
“It was relatively easy during the [previous] administration but we have clearly felt the difference this year,” Cai was quoted as saying.
Cai noted that clients from Fujian province and northeastern China may face even stricter reviews than those from Shanghai, Hangzhou or Ningbo, as he said those areas are now considered as high-risk.