U.S. visa vetting process now seeks social media handles from certain applicants

The U.S. Department of State building in Washington

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security laid out a proposal in December of 2015 with plans to prompt incoming travelers to voluntarily disclose their social media handles. Last month, the State Department proposed the same idea in order to tighten the vetting process for certain U.S. visa applicants.

It appears that the State Department has gone ahead with the plan; the new supplemental questionnaire has come into effect, requesting the Twitter, Facebook, and other social media names and handles, as well as emails and phone numbers used by the applicant in the past five years.

Additionally, these questions also request information about current addresses, prior addresses, as well as travel history for the past 15 years, including details about the source of funds for travel and length of stay. The form also asks for names and date of birth of all siblings and children of the applicant, living or deceased.

Although the new questions remain voluntary, the form notes that failing to answer them could result in a delay in processing, or outright denial, of a visa application.

As reported by Reuters citing a State Department spokesperson, consular officials will request this information only if they can determine "that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.” Speaking with Fox News, a State Department official added that they estimate that “these changes would affect only a fraction of one percent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide.” This is in line with the State Department’s proposal last month, in which it claimed the extra scrutiny would only apply to an estimated 65,000 visa applications per year.

White House policy director Stephen Miller said earlier this year that the Trump administration was “discussing the possibility” of requiring travelers to disclose their social media activities and web browsing history, as well as share the contacts on their phones. If refused, visitors could be denied entry into the U.S.

Although the new measures taken by the State Department aren't as drastic, critics argue that these questions would likely slow down an already-lengthy process, potentially discouraging international students and scientists from entering the U.S.

Source: Reuters, Fox News via Engadget | Image: Associated Press

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