Tough new visa regulations from the Trump administration have prompted the U.S. Travel Association to emphasize the importance of welcoming legitimate travel.
"The travel community has been deferential to this new administration, whose charge it is to keep us safe,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow in a written release. “So now we respectfully request public acknowledgement of our nation's interest in welcoming legitimate travel. Mr. President, please tell the world that while we're closed to terror, we're open for business. Imbalanced communication is especially susceptible to being 'lost in translation'—so let's work together to inform our friends and neighbors, who could benefit from reassurance, not just who is no longer welcome here, but who remains invited to invest and vacation here."
According to the New York Times, last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson instructed consular officials at all American embassies to broadly increase their scrutiny, marking the first evidence of the “extreme vetting” that was one of President Donald Trump's campaign promises. The new rules do not, however, apply to citizens of 38 countries, including most of Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, who are part of the Visa Waiver Program that allows visa-free travel to the United States.
The new rules include a call for a “mandatory social media check” for all applicants who have ever been present in territory controlled by ISIS, Reuters reports. Currently, social media screenings by consular officials are rare.
According to the Associated Press, the instructions also told consular officials to draw up criteria for “population sets” that would need extra visa scrutiny before being allowed to travel to the United States. While the instructions did not define population sets, human rights groups criticized the policy as being potentially discriminatory.
"These measures could provide license for discrimination based on national origin and religion," Amnesty International said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cited by the AP. "They could provide a pretext for barring individuals based on their nonviolent beliefs and expression. Social media checks, as well as demands for social media passwords at U.S. borders, have significant implications for privacy and freedom of expression."
The move comes shortly after President Trump’s newly revised ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries was blocked from taking effect by a series of court decisions. In Hawaii, the state had argued that the ban discriminates against Muslims, as well as that the order would harm the state’s economy by disrupting its tourism industry. A federal judge there ruled that the state had reasonable grounds to challenge the order as religious discrimination. In a separate ruling in Maryland, a judge found that the likely purpose of the executive order was “the effectuation of the proposed Muslim ban.”
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