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Want A US Visa? Watch What You Post Online!

Want A US Visa? Watch What You Post Online!
July 12
12:30 2019

Friday, July 12th. 2019 –

If you are thinking about applying for a US Visa to tour, shop or study in that country, you might want to be careful of what you post on your social media accounts. That is because as of the end of May, this year, the US State Department regulations required that US Visa applicants submit their social media names and five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers. And if you are found to be lying or omitting some of the required information, you can face immigration consequences too, once you are allowed in the US and that information comes to light!

The State Department advises US visa applicants to complete the application as fully and honestly as possible to avoid any delays in the processing of their application and states that failure to provide accurate and truthful information may result in their visa being denied.

The only people who the new requirement does not apply to are certain diplomatic and official visa applicants, but it is estimated that some 14.7 million people will have to comply by the new regulation each year.

In announcing the new requirement, the US State Department said, “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect US citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”

The Reporter sought information from the US Embassy and learned that the new regulation is the result of US President, Donald Trump’s March 6, 2017, Memorandum on Implementing Heightened Screening and Vetting of Applications for Visas and other Immigration benefits.

The US State Department’s document which speaks of the regulation says, “National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. 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.”

The State Department says that it already requests certain contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants and that collecting this additional information will strengthen its process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.

With the new requirement, the State Department has updated its non-immigrant visa online application form (DS-160), the paper back-up version of the non-immigrant visa application (DS-156), and the online immigrant visa application form (DS-260). These updated forms collect social media identifiers, which are names people use on social media platforms including, but not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The updated visa application forms list the specific social media platforms for which identifiers are being requested.

While the update only applies to new visa applications, visa applicants are continuously screened, even after their applications have been submitted, in order to ensure they remain eligible to travel to the United States.

Prior to now, only applicants who needed additional vetting, such as people who had been to terrorist-controlled parts of the world, needed to provide this information, but now even ordinary applicants must give up their account names on the various social media platforms listed and otherwise.

The new measure has not come without its share of criticisms, even in the US. Human rights groups have argued that the regulation violates people’s right to privacy.

But the State Department maintains that the same safeguards and confidentiality provisions that already protect a visa applicant’s personal information also apply to social media identifiers and all other newly collected information related to a visa application. It assures that Consular officers will not request user passwords nor will they have any ability to modify privacy controls applicants may have implemented on these platforms.

Whatever information is given, however, may be shared with partner agencies in the US government to safeguard against threats to US security, and to ensure that consular officers can review all relevant information about applicants’ eligibility for a US visa.

The State Department says that its Consular officers cannot deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation, and that Consular officers will not request user passwords nor will they be able to modify privacy controls the applicants may have implemented on these platforms.

While the new rule has just come into effect, it is not the first time that it has surfaced. From the days of past US President, Barack Obama, those who applied for US Visas were asked to volunteer their social media particulars; then in March 2018, the rule was first proposed as a requirement.

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