In line with the so-called “extreme vetting” urged by U.S. President Donald Trump, the Department of State is proposing tougher scrutiny of visa applicants’ private affairs, including questioning applicants about their social media accounts.
The stepped-up measures, which the department claims will be adopted “in order to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities,” will kick into effect beginning on May 18, but will be subject to public comment by the Office of Management of Budget.
The measure, which would apply to an estimated 65,000 people per year, would require applicants to provide five years’ worth of all social media accounts and handles, email addresses and phone numbers, along with about 15 years of biographical information about work and travel history. Failure to provide these details would likely endanger applicants’ ability to enter the United States.
The stringent criteria will apply to those “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities,” the State Department said in a notice to the Federal Register.
Visa applicants had previously only been asked to provide details of the last five years, rather than fifteen, of their travel and work history.
Immigration officials had previously screened the social media accounts of selected visitors at border checkpoints, but visa applicants had been exempt from such examinations.
Passwords for email and social media accounts, however, will not be required, according to the State Department document. This exemption from the new vetting regime allows the department to skirt the criticisms of privacy advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Committee to Protect Journalists, organizations which have criticized Department of Homeland Security measures that forced visitors to provide passwords to social accounts, as well as mobile phone contacts.
The DHS, which was also tasked with reviewing vetting procedures for visa applicants, said the State Department request does not preclude DHS from identifying new “ways to protect the American people.”
“Some improvement will be classified, others will be public, but the Department has only just begun ways to enhance the security of our immigration system,” DHS spokesman David Lapan said.
The Trump administration has loudly warned of the supposed “dangers” posed by immigrants and foreign visitors, but many critics see the ostensible “national security” concerns as veiled racist scaremongering and xenophobic scapegoating.
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