Dated: June 4, 2019
The United States Department of State issued a new policy May 31, 2019 requiring nearly all visa applicants to the United States to list any and all social media accounts, emails, and phone numbers used within the past five years. The new policy was implemented in hopes of improving the visa-screening process.
Many travelers planning a trip to the United States will find a new section on the DS-160 form, requiring the addition of such information – some of the most popular requested platforms include Instagram, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
In a statement to the Associated Press, the department said “(n)ational security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”
Under the Obama administration, previous applicants were asked to voluntarily submit their social media information, unless they were identified for extra scrutiny.
Now, anyone who attempts to conceal their social media use could face “serious immigration consequences,” according to an official that spoke to The Hill. “As we’ve seen around the world in recent years, social media can be a major forum for terrorist sentiment and activity. This will be a visa tool to screen out terrorists, public safety threats, and other dangerous individuals from gaining immigration benefits and setting foot on U.S. soil,” said the state department official.
The move has gained some scrutiny from human rights organizations, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “This is a dangerous and problematic proposal, which does nothing to protect security concerns but raises significant privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for citizens and immigrants,” Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said on Sunday. Those with similar sentiments to Ms. Shamsi believe the policy could lead to a “chilling effect,” causing the censorship of speech. Others, such as Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, have accused the Trump administration of overly broad surveillance efforts.
The new requirement could affect up to 15 million potential travelers per year. However, those tourists traveling from any of the 38 countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program still have the option of listing their accounts but are not yet required to on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) form.