What the U.S. is reviewing to make the K-1 fiancé visa system more secure

After U.S. officials revealed that one of the suspected shooters in the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Tashfeen Malik, had emigrated to the U.S. as the wife of the other shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook, on a K-1 fiance visa, the federal government launched an investigation into the program.

The State and Homeland Security Departments are considering a few changes to the K-1 visa vetting process, which is already said to be rigorous.

Malik was interviewed for the K-1 visa at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan and vetted by five different government agencies, her name and picture checked against a terror watch list and her fingerprints run against two databases, CBS News' Margaret Brennan reported.

FBI Director James Comey clarified this week that Malik had used direct private messaging to voice her support for and desire to participate in violent jihad, after some reports had suggested that she had been posting on social media websites. Even though it turned out that Malik had not in fact posted her jihadist support on social media, lawmakers, politicians and government officials grew concerned that evaluating social media was not a part of the immigrant vetting process.

But the U.S. does in fact review social media accounts of visa applicants in some cases, Brennan reports.‎ It is neither required nor standard, but it is done.

By the time an applicant arrives at a consulate for a visa interview, "consular officers have a great deal of information available to them," the State Department consular bureau told Brennan in an email. Officers can evaluate data provided in the application, the interagency screening, and the applicants themselves in the interview.

If the consular officer still wants another check on the information that an applicant has provided, he or she can refer the application to the consular section's fraud prevention unit, which can look into social media. As part of review of the K-1 visa process, "we are looking at the broader use of social media in vetting visa applicants," the consular bureau wrote.

The K-1 U.S. consulate interview generally involves probing questions about the relationship between the couple -- how many times they have met, details about the proposal and wedding, evidence that there is a real relationship between the two.

In her fiancée visa interview, Malik was asked about Farook's job as a food safety inspector in California, his birthday and financial records. She also supplied the visa official with pictures of their engagement ceremony in Mecca, a U.S. official told CBS News.

The Homeland Security and State Departments are considering running retroactive checks of some of K-1 visa applicants to see if they can find possible patterns of abuse.

And they are also weighing whether adding more risk criteria would help flag some applicants, and whether there is, overall, any other kind of information that might be collected to improve the effectiveness of the vetting.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.