VISAS MANTIS and Implications for Trump’s “Extreme Vetting”

In recent months, a Presidential Memorandum, leaked Department of State cables, and a Federal Register notice have detailed the Trump Administration’s plans to implement “Extreme Vetting” of individuals determined by consular officers to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related ineligibilities. Although it is impossible to know what the exact implementation mechanism and full impact of “Extreme Vetting” will be on individuals seeking U.S. visas at this early stage in the process, it may useful to apply the lessons of the VISAS MANTIS program, which was established in 1998 to apply increased scrutiny in connection with illicit technology transfer. The parallels between VISAS MANTIS and “Extreme Vetting” are striking in that they require of consular officers a similar type of factual analysis and data collection, as well as a lengthy interagency Security Advisory Opinion (“SAO”) clearance process.


VISAS MANTIS procedures are detailed in the nearly completely publicly unavailable 9 FAM 304.2-5. The only available reference is at 9 FAM 304.2-5(B)(1)(a) in relation to the publicly unavailable Technology Alert List (“TAL”), which is the primary document used by consular officers to determine whether an applicant will require a MANTIS SAO. See below:

9 FAM 304.2-5(B)(1) (U) The Technology Alert List

The revised Technology Alert List (TAL) consists of four parts: Tab A, “Critical Fields List” (CFL) of major fields of controlled goods and technologies of tech transfer concern, including those subject to export controls for nonproliferation reasons; Tab B, the Department’s list of designated state sponsors of terrorism, Tab C, “Other Countries of Proliferation Concern”, and Tab D, “FAQs and Guidance”. While restrictions on the export of goods and technologies apply to nationals of all countries, applicants from countries on the list of state sponsors of terrorism seeking to engage in a commercial exchange or academic pursuit involving one of the critical fields warrant special scrutiny. Officers are not expected to be versed in all the fields on the list. Rather, you should shoot for familiarization and listen for key words or phrases from the list in applicants’ answers to interview questions.

Additional guidance can be found in the Legacy 9 FAM 40.31 N5.1-4 (although it may be outdated), which states that when applying the TAL, a consular officer should:

(1) Determine whether the applicant proposes to engage in one of the scientific/technical fields listed in the Critical Fields List;

(2) If the applicant’s planned activities raise questions of possible inadmissibility under INA 212(a)(3)(A)(i)(II), submit an SAO in the form of VISAS MANTIS. An SAO is mandatory in all cases of applicants bearing passports of or employed by states designated as state sponsors of terrorism who seek to engage in a commercial exchange or academic pursuit involving one of the critical fields.

(3) When a VISAS MANTIS SAO is submitted in a TAL case, you should gather and report as much information as possible about the applicant’s background, proposed activities, and travel plans. The effectiveness of the name check (and the turnaround time) is directly related to the completeness of the information in the SAO. For example: what branch of physics does the applicant study, Quantum or Nuclear? What is his current position and where does he or she work? What is the address and phone number of the company(ies) he or she intends to visit? Who is the applicant point of contact? Who is funding the travel or education? Will he or she be returning to work in a country which sponsors terrorism or is under sanctions? How does the applicant plan to use the goods or knowledge acquired? Will he or she be “exporting” this new knowledge to a hostile nation?

Critically, 9 FAM 4