US Visa Applicants Will Now Have To Hand Over 5 Years Of Social Media Info

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Individuals hoping to enter the United States on visas will now have to give Uncle Sam a peek into their online life. U.S. visa applicants must provide social-media account information as part of recently rolled out enhanced screening measures for immigrants and foreign visitors. The State Department now requires nearly all U.S. visa applicants to submit all of their social media usernames along with five-years' worth of email addresses and phone numbers.

According to the Associated Press, the State Department has begun using updated immigrant and nonimmigrant visa forms, which ask applicants to list any social media profile or username they've used in the last five years. The new regulation impacts nearly all applicants with exceptions made only for certain diplomatic and official visa types, the news outlet reported.

In a statement provided to the Associated Press, the State Department said collecting applicants' social-media identifiers would "strengthen" its process of confirming and vetting the identities of applicants. "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 agency said. "We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States."

The State Department's new social media question comes as a result of an executive order President Donald Trump issued in 2017 that authorized the implementation of heightened screening and vetting of both visa applicants and other immigration benefits. In that order, Trump instructed the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence to review and identify what additional information may be needed for visa admission "in order to determine that the individual is not a security or public-safety threat."

In a statement to the Hill, a State Department official warned that any applicant who lies about their social media use could face "serious immigration consequences," but did not specify what those might be.

The State Department had first floated the idea of extending its inquiries into social media and email accounts to include nearly all visa applicants in March 2018, according to TechCrunch. Previously, only applicants flagged for extra scrutiny, such as individuals who may have traveled to areas known to have high-levels of terrorist activity, were required to answer questions regarding their social media, email, and phone number history.

The State Department told the Associated Press it thought an approximate 710,000 immigrant visa applications and 14 million nonimmigrant visa applications would be impacted by the new regulations. Previous regulations regarding inquiries into social media use had impacted an estimated 65,000 applicants every year, according to the news outlet.

"This is a critical step forward in establishing enhanced vetting of foreign nationals seeking entry into the United States," a State Department official told the Hill. "As we've seen around the world in recent years, social media can be a major forum for terrorist sentiment and activity. This will be a vital tool to screen out terrorists, public safety threats, and other dangerous individuals from gaining immigration benefits and setting foot on U.S. soil."