Proposal would require social media details for all U.S. visas

The U.S. State Department wants a new rule so it can ask for the social media history of all visa applicants.

A proposed rule by the U.S. State Department would require all visa applicants coming to the United States to provide details about their social media activity from the past five years, according to Bloomberg. If approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the rule change would affect close to 15 million immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants. Currently, only visa applicants who are identified as requiring extra scrutiny, such as those who have visited regions controlled by terrorist organizations, have had to provide social media account details.

All visa applicants would be impacted

The proposed rule change would require all immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants to provide details about their social media accounts from the past five years. While the details of the proposal have yet to be worked out, it is likely that applicants would be required to provide their handles for listed social media accounts on their application forms. The proposal also requires all visa applicants to provide a list of phone numbers, email addresses, family members who have been involved in terrorism, and whether or not the applicant has been deported from another country. The information provided would cover the past five years.

As Reuters reports, under rules that were adopted last May, State Department officials were only asked to collect social media identifiers for applicants who demanded extra scrutiny, especially those who may have visited areas with known terrorism problems. About 65,000 people each year fall in this category requiring additional scrutiny. If the new rule change is adopted, it would apply to 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants and 710,000 immigrant visa applicants. Only diplomatic and certain official visa applicants would be exempt from the proposed requirements.

Civil liberties concerns

The proposal is part of President Trump's promise to introduce so-called "extreme vetting" for immigrants to the United States. Civil liberties advocates are concerned about the effect that the changes could have. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, warned that the broad rule change could lead to a "chilling effect" on freedom of speech.

The ACLU points out that the Trump administration has been vague about what it defines as "terrorist activities," which means that using social media activity to deny applicants visas could be prone to political abuse and discrimination, especially against those from Muslim-majority countries. The ACLU also warned that applicants could start to worry about whether innocent online activity could end up being misinterpreted by a government official.

Immigration law help

Immigrants and visa applicants face lots of uncertainty today, which is why anybody with an immigration-related concern should contact an attorney for help. An experienced immigration attorney can assist immigrants and visa applicants by informing them of what their rights are and how to pursue a strategy that best ensures that those rights are protected.