The US Department of State plans to review social media, email addresses and phone numbers from some foreigners seeking US visas. According to document published on Thursday, the department has proposed tougher questioning of visa applicants. The President Donald Trump said that it is a necessary preventive measure for terrorist attacks.
The notice seeks public comment on the same but it also said that it is requesting a temporary go-ahead from the White House budget office so that the plan can take effect for 180 days, beginning May 18.
The proposed criteria would apply to visa applicants who have traveled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations. Questions about social media accounts would be part of the stepped up criteria which would account for 0.5% of US visa applicants worldwide. Though the notice did not target any particular countries.
The affected applicants would have to provide all their prior passport numbers, social media handles used during the previous 5 years. In addition to this, they would have to provide all phone numbers and email addresses used during that period. According to the department’s notice, US consular officials would not try to breach any privacy controls on applicants’ accounts.
If this step is granted then it would be the first concrete step towards more stringent vetting. Trump has asked federal agencies to apply this towards foreign travelers from countries he deemed threat to US.
According to immigration lawyers and advocates, the request for 15 years of detailed biographical information, as well as the expectation that applicants remember all their social media handles (Facebook, Twitter, etc), is likely to catch applicants who make innocent mistakes.
Although applicants may not necessarily be denied a visa if they fail to provide all the information, the notice said.