US State Department proposes stricter visa scrutiny, wants details of social media accounts

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The notification says it has been issued in accordance with the directive of the President

The Bureau of Consular Affairs under the US Department of State has issued a public notice requesting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to review and approve its move to impose supplemental questions for visa applicants to ascertain that the immigrates have no connection with terrorism related activities or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.

The public notice issued on Thursday proposes additional questions to be included in applications from a subset of visa applicants worldwide.

According to the notice the newly added supplemental questions will apply to 65,000 immigrants per year, which is about 0.5 percent of the total US visa applicants worldwide.

According to the notice, the department proposes requesting the following information, if not already included in the visa application:

  • Travel history during the last fifteen years, including source of funding for travel;
  • Address history during the last fifteen years;
  • Employment history during the last fifteen years;
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicants
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings
  • Name and dates of birth for all children
  • Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years; and
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.

The applicants who come under the new stepped-up criteria, would be required to provide names and dates of birth of siblings and, for some applicants, children who are new.

They will also have to provide the details of their social media handles and other associated online platforms to the Department of State. This is already being collected on a voluntary basis by the Department of Homeland Security in case of certain individuals.

The applicants who come under the extreme vetting criteria will also have to show the details of their past international and domestic travel history if the consular officer finds the applicant stayed in a terrorist occupied area. If this is the case, applicant will also have to recount or explain the details of their travel, and when possible, provide supporting documentation.

The notification says it has been issued in accordance with the directive of the President to “implement additional protocols and procedures focused on ensuring proper collection of all information necessary to rigorously evaluate all grounds of inadmissibility or deportability, or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits.”

The Department of State says the additional information collected will help the Consular officers to identify applicants with visa ineligibilities without going for the assistance of law enforcement and intelligence community.

If the scrutiny of the stepped-up details finds that the applicant is involved in activities that warrant to visa ineligibilities, the consular officer can deny the visa. The notification also says that visas will not be denied on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation.

It also adds that if an applicant cannot provide requested details due to valid reasons, it will not necessarily result in visa denial if the consular officer finds the applicant is speaking the truth. In such cases, applicants are requested to carry supporting documents to prove their claim.

The stepped-up questions will be only asked if the consular officer needs to resolve an applicant’s identity or to vet for terrorism or other national security related visa ineligibilities; when the consular officer determines that the circumstances of a visa applicant, a review of a visa application, or responses in a visa interview indicate a need for greater scrutiny.

The consular can ask the stepped-up question either electronically, orally or in writing at the time of the interview. The notification also confirms that the consular officer will not request user passwords nor will bypass any privacy setting implemented on social media platforms by the applicant.

The changes proposed in the notice is currently open for public comment from interested individuals and organizations before it gets approved or denied by the Office of Management and Budget.