Washington: The US state department wants to review social media, email addresses and phone numbers from some foreigners seeking US visas, as part of the Trump administration’s enhanced screening of potential immigrants and visitors.
The department, in a notice published on Thursday in the Federal Register, said it was seeking public comment on the requirement. But it also said is requesting a temporary go-ahead from the White House budget office so the plan can take effect for 180 days, beginning May 18, regardless of those public comments.
The proposed requirements would apply to visa applicants identified for extra scrutiny, such as those who have traveled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations. The state department said it estimates that the rules would affect about 0.5 percent of total US visa applicants, or roughly 65,000 people.
Affected applicants would have to provide their social media handles and platforms used during the previous five years, and divulge all phone numbers and email addresses used during that period. US consular officials would not seek social media passwords, and would not try to breach any privacy controls on applicants’ accounts, according to the department’s notice.
Since last year, immigration officials have sought social media information from some foreigners arriving at US border checkpoints, but that information had not previously been required on visa applications.
The new rules also would require applicants to provide 15 years of travel and work history and the names and dates of birth of all siblings, children and current and former spouses or partners. Visa applicants are now generally asked for only five years of travel and work history and are not asked for information about their siblings.
The state department said it wanted the additional information “in order to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.”
The proposal follows a March directive from the state department for all US embassies and consulates to draw up criteria for “population sets” needing extra scrutiny before receiving US visas.
Immigration lawyers and advocates say the request for 15 years of detailed biographical information, as well as the expectation that applicants remember all their social media handles, is likely to catch visa applicants who make innocent mistakes or do not remember all the information requested.
They also question whether the time-consuming screening can achieve its intended goal of identifying potential terrorists.
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson first introduced similar measures in a March cable to American consular officers that outlined questions officers should now ask in order to tighten vetting of US visa applicants.