US may screen social media of Immigrant & Non-Immigrant Visa Applicants


Trump administration has announced that it will be starting to collect social media history of those who have applied for a visa to enter the United States.

According to the proposed rules from the US State Department, almost all the visa applicants, a whopping 14.7 million individuals [PDF] (nearly 710,000 million per year) will have to submit their social media profiles’ usernames and other data for the last five years.

In 2017, Trump administration decided to ask for social media data from immigrant visa applicants.

But, the new proposal would further expand the requirement as it will not cover those 14 million people who apply for non-immigrant visas annually.

This means the Trump administration is seeking to collect social media data of both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants for identification and vetting purpose.

Applicants will be required to provide details of their Facebook and Twitter accounts apart from disclosing all of their social media identities used in the last five years.

Last May, officials were required to ask for social media accounts of applicants only if they felt that the information will be useful in confirming the identity of the applicant or conducting intensive national security vetting.

However, the rules have been considerably toughened by President Trump as he has decided to expand extreme vetting to foreigners seeking to enter the US.

The decision has been taken to fight terrorism. The proposal involves seeking approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The information required from applications will include telephone numbers, travel history, and email addresses form the past five years.

Further, applicants will be asked if they have ever been deported from a country and if any of their relatives have been involved in a terrorist activity.

It is worth noting that applicants from 40 countries, mainly US allies, are exempted from the proposal and they will be allowed to enjoy visa-free travel status just like before. These countries include UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia, South Korea and France.

However, it is unclear whether citizens from these countries would come under the hammer if they apply for a non-immigrant visa in case their travel/stay exceeds the mandatory 90 days period allowed by the visa-waiver program.

It is though clear that visitors traveling on official and diplomatic visas will be exempted. Citizens from non-exempt countries including Mexico, India, and China might get embroiled if they want to visit the US whether for business or holidaying.

Currently, the social media platforms included in the screening process haven’t been disclosed fully but it is suspected that all mainstream social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat will be screened. Social media platforms based overseas such as China’s QQ and Weibo and Russia’s VK may also be included in the list.

We do believe that such measures might decrease the number of international visitors to the US. Human rights activists and civil society instantly started criticizing the proposal as soon as the news broke on Friday.

According to American Civil Liberties Union’s National (ACLU) Security Project director Hina Shamsi:

“This attempt to collect a massive amount of information on the social media activity of millions of visa applicants is yet another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump administration plan.”

The public can comment on revised procedures within 60 days after which the OMB will approve or reject the proposal.


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