Two years ago, then-Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, proposed collecting 15 years of travel, address and employment history and 5 years of social media platforms, identifiers, phone numbers and emails from visa applicants selected for “extreme vetting.” It was predicted that this would affect only 0.5% of all visa applicants – approximately 65,000 annually. As of 1 June 2019, with the introduction of a new DS-160 Form, some of this information will be collected from all visa applicants – affecting approximately 15 million foreign nationals planning to come to the U.S.
The new DS-160 Form, the on-line form used for immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications, requires, among other things, that applicants list any of the following that they have used in the five years preceding the application:
- Social media platforms with user names (not passwords);
- Phone numbers;
- Email addresses;
- International travel and deportation status; and
- Information on whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.
The form contains a drop down menu of approximately 20 social media accounts including the very popular Facebook, Google+, Instragram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Twitter and Youtube. Failure to disclose might be construed as a misrepresentation and could, according to a State Department official, lead to serious consequences.
The State Department reported that the agency is “constantly working to find mechanisms to improve [its] screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”
The ACLU commented that the requirement to provide social media information will “infringe on the rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official.” The new requirements could also chill the desire of highly-skilled foreign nationals to come to the United States. Indeed, it has been reported that the U.S. no longer ranks as a top destination for such workers. Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada are all moving up in the rankings in part because of their more attractive stances on immigration for highly skilled workers.