State Department seeks to screen social media of visa applicants

Applicants would have to provide their social media information from the previous five years

By Matthew Rozsa

Published May 4, 2017 10:06PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (Getty/Mandel Ngan/AP/Matt Rourke)
Donald Trump (Getty/Mandel Ngan/AP/Matt Rourke)

The American immigration debate has been fiercely polarized for a while now, but things are going to take a particularly ugly turn later this month when the State Department begins selecting certain groups of visa applicants for social media screenings.

Starting on May 18, the State Department is going to screen social media accounts, email addresses, and phone numbers from visa applicants who are previously identified as requiring special scrutiny, according to a report by the Associated Press. One example of a circumstance that would warrant this scrutiny is whether an applicant has ever visited a country controlled by terrorist organizations.

This changes current policy in several ways. For one thing, although immigration officials have previously screened social media accounts for selected foreigners at border checkpoints, they have not done so on visa applications. In addition, although visa applicants are currently only asked for for the last five years of their travel and work history, the new rules would also require them to provide 15 years of travel and work history as well as names and birthdays for their siblings.

The State Department claims it wants this information so that it can "more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities" and that their rules will only impact roughly 0.5 percent of the total number of visa applicants -- or approximately 65,000 people.

Although the State Department said it desired public comment when it published this in the Federal Register, it has requested permission from the Trump administration to temporarily proceed for 180 days.


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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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