Congressional research services publishes report on visa security policies

The Congressional Research Service has released a report on visa security policies, policies which many believe are one of the most effective ways of stopping foreign nationals who may pose security threats to the United States. The report provides an overview of existing security policies and proposed legislative reforms. The report’s release is especially timely in light of the Nov. 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

The report, Immigration: Visa Security Policies, details the security checks that visa applicants must currently undergo before being issued a U.S. visa. These include submitting fingerprints, a photograph and identification information. All prospective lawful permanent residents, and some prospective nonimmigrants, must undergo physical and mental examinations. U.S. consular posts use a biometric and biographic database called the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) to screen visa applicants, and consular officers also search a Consular Lookout and Support System database (CLASS). From 2013 onward, Consular offices use the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) to check for known and suspected terrorists or terrorist groups.

The report also details policy proposals intended to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of visa security policies. One proposal involves a sharing of confidential information with foreign governments to bolster security, but it raises concerns with the government’s responsibility to protect personal information. Another proposal is to apply visa security checks more broadly, making more foreign nationals coming to the U.S. subject to heightened consular screening procedures. On the other side of security concerns is a desire to welcome foreign travelers who are a boon to the U.S. economy and thus not to unduly hamper the vast majority of legitimate foreign nationals who seek to come to the U.S. for mutual benefit. Reaching the right balance between the two is the major policy challenge.