The United States has dramatically updated their VISA requirements for entry into the country and will now require nearly all VISA applicants to provide social media histories, five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, international travel and deportation status, as well as the details on whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.
The change, which was proposed in March 2018, is expected to affect about 15 million foreigners who apply for visas to enter the United States each year.
“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 department said. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens while supporting legitimate travel to the United States,” said the US State Department in a statement.
Social media, email and phone number histories had only been sought in the past from applicants who were identified for extra scrutiny, such as people who’d travelled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations. An estimated 65,000 applicants per year had fallen into that category.
The department says collecting the additional information from more applicants “will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”
When they were first proposed last year, the new requirements were contested by the American Civil Liberties Union as “ineffective and deeply problematic.” The nonprofit said it was concerned that they risked self-censorship and unfair profiling.
“People will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official,” Hina Shamsi, director of the organization’s National Security Project, said in a statement. “There is also no evidence that such social media monitoring is effective or fair, especially in the absence of criteria to guide the use of social media information in the visa adjudication process.”