The U.S. Department of State says it is now collecting social media identifiers from nearly all U.S. visa applicants. The new policy took effect on May 31st in compliance with an executive order signed by the President on March 6, 2017. Certain diplomatic visas are exempt from the requirements and providing the information remains optional for travelers covered by existing visa waiver agreements.
Applying for U.S. Visa
The U.S. Department of State confirmed earlier this month that it will now be collecting social media identifiers from nearly everyone applying for a U.S. visa. Beginning in December of 2016, visa applicants have been asked to voluntarily provide social media accounts held and the handles used on the platforms. As of May 31st of this year, information about applicants’ social media profiles is required and those who neglect to truthfully furnish the information are subject to legal penalties.
“On May 31, 2019, the Department of State updated its immigrant and nonimmigrant visa application forms to request additional information, including social media identifiers, from most U.S. visa applicants worldwide,” officials confirmed in a statement. “This update, which we initially announced last year in the Federal Register, is a result of the President’s March 6, 2017, Memorandum on Implementing Heightened Screening and Vetting of Applications for Visas and other Immigration Benefits and Section 5 of Executive Order 13780 regarding implementing uniform screening and vetting standards for visa applications.”
The “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” was signed by President Trump in March of 2017. This is the same executive order which temporarily banned citizens of seven countries “presenting heightened concerns about terrorism” before federal courts intervened.
Exemptions to the Order
The Bureau of Consular Affairs says that certain diplomatic visas will be exempted from the new rules. Visitors to the U.S. from countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are not currently required to furnish identifying social media identifying information. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application (which all visitors from VWP countries must complete) has for several years requested that travelers offer social media details, but providing these particulars currently remains voluntary.
Civil rights groups and privacy advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, complain that the rules will not only result in a chilling effect on freedom of speech around the globe but is almost certain to be copied by foreign governments. The end result is that the move could cause U.S. citizens to be fearful of speaking out against injustices both at home and abroad.
Federal officials say that the change is a simple matter of taking advantage of every tool possible in order to keep the country safe. The controversial new rule is described as simply updating existing vetting techniques to keep up with new technology.
“We already request certain contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants,” the statement explained. “Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”
[Featured Image: Flickr/ Jason Howie]