United States approves social media background checks for Visa applicants

US Visa Rules Trump

That's one of the questions consular officials and customs agents are asking USA visa applicants now that the Trump administration has rolled out some controversial "extreme vetting" procedures.

Earlier this year, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly told a House committee USA visitors could be asked to surrender passwords for their social media accounts for examination by law enforcement.

Reuters reports that State Department officials said they will request the additional information of applicants when it's decided that extra steps are needed to "confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting", a condition that essentially gives official carte blanche to conduct the searches on whomever they please, for any reason.

Such visa applicants will be asked to provide additional information, including their social media handles, prior passport numbers, additional information about family members, and a longer history of past travel, employment and contact information, Cocks said.

The questionnaire even asks applicants to recount the source of the funds they used to pay for every trip they took outside their native country over the course of the last 15 years.

The measures have drawn criticism from various quarters, with many arguing against the need for a more burdensome process.

"The United States has one of the most stringent visa application processes in the world", San Francisco-based attorney Babak Yousefzadeh told Reuters. Immigration lawyers noted that tracking personal history back so far might open up applicants to innocent mistakes, which could also delay visa processing. The temporary measure was fast-tracked by the Trump administration. The Trump administration approved a new visa vetting procedure that would allow officials to request applicants' social media handles.

U.S. border officials already ask for social media handles when passengers arrive at the border, a recent change that was criticized as "highly invasive" by privacy and rights groups. It is unclear if the questionnaire will be approved for use after the initial six months are up.

Privacy concerns aside, Reuters notes that detractors are anxious the sudden uptick in information volume per application could lead to long delays.


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