The U.S. government has announced a new decision whereby foreigners applying for a US visa will now be asked to provide their social media details.
With this new decision, US visa applicants will have to complete a new questionnaire that requires giving their social media handles from the last five years and biographical information ( including email addresses and phone numbers) from the last 15 years.
The new questionnaire is part of an effort by the Trump administration to make good on its vow to implement “extreme vetting.” According to a State Dept. spokesperson, the questionnaire was approved last month by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is “required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting”.
The U.S. government’s Office of Management and Budget said the decision was made over strenuous objections from education and academic groups during a public comment period. In a federal filing, the OMB said it estimates that 65,000 people will be affected by the social media screening process each year.
Consular officials have “arbitrary power” to decide who gets a visa hassle-free and who has to undergo the more intense questioning (those they believe may “warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities). However, the filing said consular officers will not request user passwords.
Although the new questions are voluntary, failure to provide the information could delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application according to the form.
The measures have drawn criticism from various quarters, with many arguing against the need for a more burdensome process. Critics say the new questionnaire represents yet another obstacle that the government is putting in the path of potential immigrants, would-be students and qualified researchers and teachers that may otherwise want to come to the United States.
More so, immigration experts and attorneys have condemned the move, suggesting that the consular’s power to arbitrarily require some applicants to fill out the form without any apparent checks could lead to an abuse of power.
Already, US border officials ask for social media handles when passengers arrive at the border, a recent change that was criticised as “highly invasive” by privacy and rights groups.
The move comes as the Trump administration has pushed for greater scrutiny of visa applicants at US embassies abroad, where constitutional and legal protections against unreasonable searches and seizures typically don’t apply.
It’s the latest policy in an array of measures aimed at curtailing immigration, including an executive order in late January that blocked migrants from seven majority Muslim nations, including Iraq and Syria — an action that was quickly blocked by a federal judge.
The administration has also reportedly considered additional screening measures for overseas visitor applicants, including those in Europe, by forcing applicants to turn over their phones and their passwords.
Since President Trump assumed office, much focus has been on improving national security. The US was the first country to implement a ban on laptops in hand luggage for anyone flying from certain countries.