The wait for visitor visas to the United States could get a little longer.
White House and State Department officials said Thursday that a new executive order revoking an Obama-era guideline on processing times at consulates was made in the interest of “vetting” and national security.
It was not immediately clear how much much longer the process will take for the millions of tourist, student, and business visa seekers who apply to travel to the country every year.
The brief order, which was issued without comment from the White House or State Department, deletes a subsection of a 2012 order that sought to expedite the processing time for non-immigrant visas, including those needed by students and tourists.
The original order issued by then-President Barack Obama called on the State Department to “ensure that 80 percent of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application.”
The new order comes amid months of efforts by the Trump administration to wield executive powers over certain immigration policies and implement what officials refer to as “extreme vetting.”
A White House official told VOA the amendment “removes an arbitrary requirement.”
“The president expects careful, accurate vetting of visa applicants, not a rushed process to accommodate an arbitrary deadline,” assistant press secretary Michael Short said Thursday.
In a statement later Thursday, the State Department similarly referred to national security and the vetting process, saying that removing the guideline provides “additional flexibility to determine when longer processing times may be appropriate,” including for security screening.
The administration recently expanded the visa application process to include social media handles used during the last five years, and additional biographical information for the last 15 years — meaning the consular officials can ask for a would-be visitor’s Facebook profile, and a list of everywhere they’ve traveled for more than a decade.
Trump issued a temporary travel ban in March that would have restricted travelers from six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — on the grounds of national security.
Parts of that executive order were suspended following lawsuits against the government that claimed Trump discriminated against Muslims by singling out those countries, which are all Muslim-majority nations.
The case is now at the U.S. Supreme Court which is deciding whether or not to take the case.
VOA White House correspondent Pete Heinlein and State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.