International passengers arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN)
All applicants for US visas are now required to submit their social media usernames, previous email addresses and phone numbers, Time reported.
The US State Department updated its immigrant and nonimmigrant visa forms to request additional information from most US applicants, including "social media identifiers."
The update was proposed in March 2018 and is expected to affect about 15 million foreigners who apply for visas to enter the US every year.
"National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening," the State Department said, according to Time
. "We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect US citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States."
Up until now, information such as social media, email and phone number histories was only requested from applicants selected for extra scrutiny, affecting about 65,000 applicants per year.
The State Department said that these measures "will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity."
The changes were prompted by a memorandum filed by President Donald Trump in March 2017 directing the implementation of "immediate heightened screening and vetting of applications for visas and other immigration benefits."
The memorandum, published in the Federal Register, aimed "to avert the entry into the United States of foreign nationals who may aid, support, or commit violent, criminal, or terrorist acts."
The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, were directed by the memorandum to implement "additional protocols and procedures...ensuring the proper collection of all information necessary to rigorously evaluate all grounds of inadmissibility or deportability, or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits."
The memorandum was published soon after Trump issued an executive order banning travelers to the US from six Muslim-majority countries, according to CNN.
When the initial notice to make the changes was filed, the State Department estimated that the measures would affect 710,000 immigrant visa applicants and 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants, including those seeking to enter the US for business or education.
"This attempt to collect a massive amount of information on the social media activity of millions of visa applicants is yet another ineffective and deeply problematic Trump administration plan," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) National Security Project in a comment on the State Department's notice.
"It will infringe on the rights of immigrants and US citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official," Shamsi added. "There is a real risk that social media vetting will unfairly target immigrants and travelers from Muslim-majority countries for discriminatory visa denials, without doing anything to protect national security."
The new visa application forms request that applicants provide any account names they may have had on various social media platforms over the past five years, according to Time.
Applicants will also need to provide their phone numbers, email addresses, international travel and deportation status from the past five years, according to Time
. The new form also asks whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.
Some applicants for certain diplomatic and official visa types are exempt from the new requirements.
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