Defense

State Department To Collect Social Media Information From Nearly All Visa Applicants

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The State Department plans to require most visa applicants to divulge their social media information during the application process, according to notices published in the Federal Register on Friday.

Both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants will be asked to list on a federal form all the social media identities they have used for the past five years. Applicants will have to turn over information about specific government-identified social media platforms, with the option of providing additional handles not specifically listed on the application.

The new visa application questions are expected to affect roughly 14.7 million people — 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants and 710,000 immigrant visa seekers — but may not apply to all categories of visa applicants, the State Department said.

“The Department will collect this information from visa applicants for identity resolution and vetting purposes based on statutory visa eligibility standards,” the Federal Register notice stated. “However, the Department intends not to routinely ask the question of applicants for specific visa classifications, such as most diplomatic and official visa applicants.”

The new visa application questions are in keeping with President Donald Trump’s emphasis on “extreme vetting” of foreigners coming to the U.S. Trump repeatedly criticized the U.S. visa system for insufficient screening of visa applicants, pointing to terrorist attacks green card holders perpetrated in New York City and San Bernardino, Calif.

The revisions to visa application forms will not go into effect immediately. Publishing the notices to the Federal Register triggers a 60-day period for public comments before the rules are submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

If the revisions are approved, visa applicants will also be required to turn over five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses and international travel information. Additionally, they will be asked about any prior immigration violations and if any of their family members have been involved in terrorist activities.

In an unprecedented change, the State Department is proposing to give immigrant visa applicants an electronic pamphlet describing how female genital mutilation is against U.S. law if they’re from countries where the ritual is commonly practiced.

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