Nearly all travellers to the US will be required to produce details of social media accounts they have used in the previous five years, as well as present and past phone numbers and email addresses.
After the approval of revised visa application forms, the US State Department is now requiring nearly all applicants for US immigrant and non-immigrant visas to list their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media usernames.
The change is expected to affect some 15 million foreigners who travel to the US each year, including those who do so for business or education.
Only applicants for certain diplomatic and official visa types are exempted from the requirements.
“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveller and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” the State Department said. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect US citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”
Collecting the additional information from more applicants “will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity," it added.
The change would affect some 14 million foreigners that apply for non-immigrant visas each year, as well as some 710,000 immigrant visa applicants.
In the past, social media, email and phone number histories had only been sought from applicants who were identified for extra scrutiny, such as people who’d travelled to areas controlled by terrorist groups. Around 65,000 applicants had fallen into that category each year.
In addition to their social media histories, visa applicants are now asked for five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, international travel and deportation status, as well as whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.
Civil rights groups have long opposed the move.
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a 2018 statement there was “no evidence that such social media monitoring is effective or fair”, and that the rules would lead to self-censorship online and would be used discriminate against specific groups, such as travellers from Muslim-majority countries.
“The government has failed to disclose how this information — accurate or not — may be shared across government agencies and have consequences for individuals living in America, including US citizens,” it said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press.
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