‘Extreme vetting’: US visa applicants now required to submit their social media history

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The United States Department of State has begun requiring temporary visitors and those seeking permanent residence to submit five years’ worth of their social media history, warning those who attempt to hide or withhold their accounts of “serious immigration consequences”.

Visa applicants are now required to fill out the new forms, which include drop-down menus that currently list only the “major” social media platforms. Applicants also have the option of stating they do not use social media, but a State Department official told The Hill that lying about such use would have “serious immigration consequences.”

After forking over five years’ worth of social media accounts, applicants must provide five years of telephone numbers, email addresses, and travel history. They are also asked if family members have been involved in “terrorist activities,” though it’s unclear why anyone would answer such a question in the affirmative.

“This will be a vital tool to screen out terrorists, public safety threats, and other dangerous individuals,” the official enthused, explaining that the accounts would be worked into a full background check against terror watchlists and that visa applications would eventually require an even more complete travel history.

The policy is unfair to travelers, placing them at the mercy of government officials who could easily misconstrue an online conversation, the American Civil Liberties Union objected last year after the measure was proposed, adding that such misunderstandings could be deliberate, providing excuses to turn away “undesirables.”

“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,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.

The controversial policy is part of an “extreme vetting” regime originating with a March 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump. Tourism to the US has declined steadily since then, particularly among visitors from the Middle East and Africa, those areas most affected by Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.”