US visa applicants now asked for social media details and more
12th June 2019
New rules from the US State Department will mean that US visa applicants will have to submit social media names and five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers.
Extended to all
Under the new rules, first proposed by the Trump administration back in February 2017, whereas previously the only visa applicants who had needed such vetting were those from parts of the world known to be controlled by terrorist groups, all applicants travelling to the US to work or to study will now be required to give those details to the immigration authorities. The only exemptions will be for some diplomatic and official visa applicants.
Delivering on election immigration message
The new stringent rules follow on from the proposed crackdown on immigration that was an important part of now US President Donald Trump’s message during the 2016 election campaign.
Back in July 2016, the Federal Register of the U.S. government published a proposed change to travel and entry forms which indicated that the studying of social media accounts of those travelling to the U.S. would be added to the vetting process for entry to the country. It was suggested that the proposed change would apply to the I-94 travel form and to the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa. The reason given at the time was that the “social identifiers” would be: “used for vetting purposes as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional toolset which analysts and investigators may use to better analyse and investigate the case.”
There had already been reports that some U.S. border officials had actually been asking travellers to voluntarily surrender social media information since December 2016.
In February 2017, the Trump administration indicated that it was about to introduce an immigration policy that would require foreign travellers to the U.S. to divulge their social media profiles, contacts and browsing history and that visitors could be denied entry if they refused to comply. At that time, the administration had already barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
Critics of the idea that social media details should be obtained from entrants to the US include civil rights group the American Civil Liberties Union which pointed out there is no evidence it would be effective and that it could lead to self-censorship online. Also, back in 2017, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group was quoted online media as describing the proposed as “excessive and insulting”.
What does this mean for your business?
Although they may sound a little extreme, these rules have now become a reality and need to be considered by those needing a US visa. Given the opposition to President Trump and some of his thoughts and policies and the resulting large volume of Trump-related content that is shared and reacted to by many people, these new rules could be a real source of concern for those needing to work or to study in the US. It is really unknown what content and what social media activity could cause problems at immigration for travellers and what the full consequences could be.
People may also be very uncomfortable being asked to give such personal and private details as social media names and a massive five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers and about how those personal details will be stored and safeguarded (and how long for) and by whom they will be scrutinised and even shared. The measure may, along with other reported policies and announcements from the Trump administration, even discourage some people from travelling to, let alone working or studying, in the US at this time. This could have a knock-on negative effect on the economy of the US and for those companies wanting to get into the US marketplace with products or services.