The Trump administration implemented a new policy for visa applicants to the United States. As of May 2017, anyone applying for a visa to immigrate to the U.S. may be asked to provide their logins and passwords for their social media accounts.
According to authorities, these are intended to improve social media security to enter the U.S.
The latest change comes as part of the administration’s “extreme vetting” program, where authorities try to determine individuals who are likely to commit acts of terrorism in the United States. Under the new rules, officials can screen the social media networks of travelers to the United States.
Under the new policy, visa applicants will be required to fill out an additional questionnaire that details the usernames for every social media platform they have used for the past 5 years. This includes any websites or applications “used to create or share content (photos, videos, status updates, etc.).” Given the large spectrum of social networking sites, this would include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
The new requirement is required for visa applicants all over the world. Consular officers can also ask visa applicants for their social media accounts and password for the past 5 years, as well as addresses, telephone numbers and travel history.
The new policy does not only affect visa applicants. Those who can travel to the U.S. without a visa need to fill out a registration form for the ESTA system. The questionnaire may include questions regarding one’s online presence as well as standard personal and passport details. Other questions may also include information as to if the passenger has ever had an ESTA application rejected.
Whether or not a specific traveler finds questions about their social media account in their individual application form, what this new requirement suggests is that the American government is taking the online presence and activity of visitors increasingly more seriously, as they can give precious insight on whether a foreign national may represent a threat to the security of those living on American soil.
The State Department stated that this security screening would apply only to visa applicants who “have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny” in relation to terrorism or other security-related incidents.
Of note, though, the Office of Management and Budget granted emergency 6-month approval of the additional questions, instead of the customary 3-year approval. These additional questions are also said to be voluntary, but officials noted that the failure to answer these questions may cause significant delays.
Unsurprisingly, the news has caused controversy.
“We are immediately taking measures to strengthen our already strong and monitoring and research even more,” a Department of State official said. “This includes facial recognition and fingerprinting technology, as well as interagency coordination, with the ultimate aim of identifying…individuals who may pose a threat to the U.S.”
Immigration lawyers and advocates, however, feel that the new social media screening measures are unfair and discriminatory.
Whether this latest change in American tourist visa requirements has the last effect remains to be seen.