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Former Diplomat Says Visa Screening Changes Are Legal, But Rhetoric Is Problematic

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent cables to U.S. embassies last week instructing consular officials to heighten even further visa screening. He said all visa decisions are national security decisions. Ambassador Michele Thoren Bond agrees. She's a former assistant secretary of state for consular affairs. She told us what the State Department is now doing, like heightened screening, is within the law.

MICHELE THOREN BOND: Now separate from the action, I think you certainly see rhetoric from the administration that is hyped up a bit. For example, referring to this as extreme vetting - we already have very intensive vetting. It's a very thorough and careful process.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the former diplomat said that rhetoric raises a concern.

BOND: It may discourage some people from traveling to the United States who are legitimate travelers. And travel and tourism is an important export for our economy. I think that there is a chance that some of the rhetoric and the suggestion that, in general, foreigners are likely to be a threat - I worry about what that might do to the attitude that people have about visiting the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: According to a recent survey of 250 colleges and universities, there has already been a 40 percent decline of applications from international students.

(SOUNDBITE OF POPULOUS' "CANOE CANOA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.