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Trump administration approves social media screening for visa applicants

Trump administration approves social media screening for visa applicants


Critics say new questionnaire may deter students and researchers from coming to the US

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US visa applicants may be required to disclose any social media handles, email addresses, and phone numbers used over the previous five years, under new procedures approved by the Trump administration. As Reuters reports, a new questionnaire for visa applicants was approved by the Office of Management and Budget on May 23rd, after receiving sharp criticism during a public comment period.

The procedures allow consular officials to request 15 years worth of personal information — including applicants’ previous addresses, employment history, and travel records — in addition to the social media data. More than 50 academic groups criticized the proposed screening procedures in a letter to the State Department earlier this month, writing that the protocol would fuel “uncertainties and confusion” that may discourage students and researchers from coming to the US.

The new questions are described as voluntary, though applicants who do not disclose additional information may see their processing delayed or halted, according to the questionnaire. A State Department official tells Reuters that the additional information will be requested if officials determine that it “is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”

Previously, the State Department said that the questions pertaining to social media use, emails, and phone numbers would only apply to applicants “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.” Earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered a “mandatory social media check” for all visa applicants who visited ISIS-controlled territory, as part of the “extreme vetting” that Trump vowed to implement when campaigning for president.

More than 200 people commented on the proposal during the public comment period, which ended on May 18th. The majority of comments were negative, Reuters reported last month.