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US may seek social media details of visa applicants

Saturday, May 6, 2017,13:56 IST By anju A A A

Washington | The Trump administration has proposed a rigorous vetting process for US visa applicants, including investigating their social media profiles, to keep foreigners with connection to terror activities or other national security-related ineligibilities out of the country.

The State Department on Thursday issued a notification publishing some of the questions that the US State Department wants to ask from US visa applicants.

The State Department in the notice invited comments on the impending set of measures. It said an estimated 65,000 applicants annually, or 0.5 per cent of applicants worldwide, will be impacted.

“Regarding travel history, applicants may be requested to provide details of their international or domestic (within their country of nationality) travel, if it appears to the consular officer that the applicant has been in an area while the area was under the operational control of a terrorist organisation,” the notification said.

The applicants who come under the new stepped-up criteria, would be required to provide names and dates of birth of siblings and, for some applicants, children who are new.

They will also have to provide the details of their social media handles and other associated online platforms to the Department of State. This is already being collected on a voluntary basis by the Department of Homeland Security in case of certain individuals.

The applicants who come under the extreme vetting criteria will also have to show the details of their past international and domestic travel history if the consular officer finds the applicant stayed in a terrorist occupied area. If this is the case, applicant will also have to recount or explain the details of their travel, and when possible, provide supporting documentation.

The notification says it has been issued in accordance with the directive of US President Donald Trump to “implement additional protocols and procedures focused on ensuring 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 Department of State said the additional information collected will help the Consular officers to identify applicants with visa ineligibilities without going for the assistance of law enforcement and intelligence community.

If the scrutiny of the stepped-up details finds that the applicant is involved in activities that warrant to visa ineligibilities, the consular officer can deny the visa. The notification also says that visas will not be denied on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation.

It also adds that if an applicant cannot provide requested details due to valid reasons, it will not necessarily result in visa denial if the consular officer finds the applicant is speaking the truth. In such cases, applicants are requested to carry supporting documents to prove their claim.

The stepped-up questions will be only asked if the consular officer needs to resolve an applicant’s identity or to vet for terrorism or other national security related visa ineligibilities; when the consular officer determines that the circumstances of a visa applicant, a review of a visa application, or responses in a visa interview indicate a need for greater scrutiny.

The consular can ask the stepped-up question either electronically, orally or in writing at the time of the interview. The notification also confirms that the consular officer will not request user passwords nor will bypass any privacy setting implemented on social media platforms by the applicant.

An overwhelming majority of respondents to the State Departments notification have described the new measures as “absurd and stupid.”

“It’s absolutely nonsense,” commented an anonymous responder to the notification.

“The proposed information collection is ridiculous – burdensome, invasive, and unnecessary,” wrote one Jennifer Flinn.

“I find the idea of my government demanding access to a visa applicant’s social media accounts morally abhorrent, and a waste of time and resources,” said one Zachery Walters.

“This nonsensical rule claims that it will help prevent crime and terrorism, and will not persecute applicants based on protected statuses, but that is a laughably transparent lie,” the same responder wrote.

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