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US asks nations to provide more traveller data or face sanctions

The cable, sent to all US diplomatic posts on Wednesday, is a summary of a worldwide review of vetting procedures that was required under Donald Trump’s March 6 executive order that temporarily banned entry of citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries.

world Updated: Jul 14, 2017 22:14 IST
US Customs and Immigration officers keep watch at the arrivals level at Los Angeles International Airport on June 29, 2017.
US Customs and Immigration officers keep watch at the arrivals level at Los Angeles International Airport on June 29, 2017. (Reuters)

The US state department will require all nations to provide extensive data to help it vet visa applicants and determine whether a traveller poses a terrorist threat, according to a cable obtained by Reuters.

Countries that fail to comply with the new protocols or take steps to do so within 50 days could face travel sanctions.

The cable, sent to all US diplomatic posts on Wednesday, is a summary of a worldwide review of vetting procedures that was required under President Donald Trump’s revised March 6 executive order that temporarily banned US travel by most citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries.

The memo lays out a series of standards the United States will require of other countries, including that they issue, or have active plans to issue, electronic passports and regularly report lost and stolen passports to Interpol.

It also directs nations to provide “any other identity information” requested by Washington for US visa applicants, including biometric or biographic details.

The cable sets out requirements for countries to provide data on individuals it knows or has grounds to believe are terrorists as well as criminal record information.

Further, countries are asked not to block the transfer of information about US-bound travellers to the government and not to designate people for travel watchlists based solely on their political or religious beliefs.

“This is the first time that the US government is setting standards for the information that is required from all countries specifically in support of immigration and traveller vetting,” the cable said.

The new requirements are the latest in a series of steps the Trump administration says it is taking to better protect the United States from terrorist attack.

However, former officials said much of the information sought is routinely shared between countries, including examples of passports and additional details about particular travellers that may present security concerns.

Some US allies may worry about privacy protections if Washington is seen as seeking information beyond what is already shared, said John Sandweg, a former senior homeland security department official now with the firm Frontier Solutions.

“I don’t think you can ignore the political aspects of the unpopularity of the current administration. That puts political pressure to stand up to the administration,” he said.

The cable lays out risk factors the US government will consider when evaluating a country. Some of these are controversial and could be difficult for countries to prove to US satisfaction, including ensuring “that they are not and do not have the potential to become a terrorist safe haven.”

Countries are also expected to agree to take back citizens ordered removed from the United States.

If they do not provide the information requested, or come up with an adequate plan to, countries could end up on a list to be submitted to Trump for possible sanction, including barring “categories” of their citizens from entering the United States.

The state department declined comment on the cable, saying it would not discuss internal communications.