As promised, the State Department is finally adding targeted social-media screening to the vetting process for visa applicants hoping to travel to the United States. It is part of a broader effort to prevent terrorists from infiltrating the country.
The social-media screening centers on a questionnaire required for a relatively small number of visa applicants, including a number of requests for detailed biographical information.
Under the new system, announced by the Office of Management and Budget, State Department travel officials may ask visa applicants “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny” – a group projected to number around 65,000 individuals per year, or 0.5% of the total number of applicants – for a variety of additional information.
That will include all their social-media profiles and handles used in the past five years.
The questionnaire also requests travel history for the last 15 years, including sources of funding, phone numbers and email addresses used over the last five years, all addresses for residences from the last 15 years, employment history over the last 15 years, all passport numbers held by the applicant including issuing countries, and the names and dates of birth for all siblings, children, and current and former spouses or domestic partners.
Refusing to divulge social-media profiles won’t automatically disqualify applicants, but in cases where they refuse, admission will require a “credible explanation” of the reason for their refusal, suggesting the default will be rejection in these cases.
This is just one of a number of social media-related security measures.
In March, the Department of Homeland Security introduced mandatory social-media screening for any visa applicants who have spent time in territory controlled by the terrorist group ISIS.
And in February, the White House proposed a new measure that would ask (but not require) Chinese visa holders to submit their social-media profiles for review by customs officials when they visit the United States.