A new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants has been approved by the Trump administration as part of an effort to tighten vetting. The new application asks for social media handles and accounts used during the last five years. This also includes 15 years of travel history, as well as the source of funding for trips.
The State Department proposed new measures for U.S. visa applicants worldwide in order to “more rigorously” evaluate applicants in an effort to defend the country from future terrorist attacks.
“Collecting additional information from visa applicants whose circumstances suggest a need for further scrutiny will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” a State Department official said. “We estimate these changes would affect only a fraction of one percent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide.”
Under the new application, officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years’ worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.
The Department of Homeland Security said that the questionnaire would help to provide the “best information possible.”
“We’re continuing to seek better information sharing and better processes with all countries to get a better sense on who these people are who would enter the country,” a DHS official said. “We’re trying to have the best information possible from countries to identify the client and understand the background of people who want to do us harm.”
The State Department said that the social media additions to the questionnaire were in accordance with President Trump’s March 6 Memorandum on enhancing the screening and vetting of applicants for visas.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, acknowledged the danger of social media platforms in a counterterrorism strategy report released by the committee last fall.
“Social media sites and applications have been propaganda multipliers, allowing them to connect with potential followers across countries, cultures and languages,” McCaul wrote.
Facebook and Twitter have shut down hundreds of thousands of accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist attacks and activity since mid-2015.
“National security is our top priority with adjudicating visa applications. Every prospective traveler to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” a State Department official said. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to support legitimate travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S. citizens.”
Although the questions are voluntary, the form states that refusal to provide the information requested is likely to lead to delays in the visa process, or even denying the visa all together.
Critics say the request for 15 years of detailed travel information, as well as social media handles, is unreasonable. They claim these questions are set up to target those who make innocent mistakes or cannot remember all of their social media information.
Officials reiterated that they will only request this information if they feel “that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”