The US State Department has announced that nearly all applicants for US visas will now have to submit their social media usernames and five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers as part of their applications.
This includes people travelling to the US to work or study, but does not currently apply to those applying for visa waivers, which I just confirmed by applying for one, which I needed to do anyway.
If you’re only visiting the US for a short period of time, you’ll be applying for an ESTA visa waiver, and while that application does ask if you have the plague or plan on engaging in terrorist acts, it leaves it up to you to decide whether or not to hand over your social media handles.
Previously, only people who required “extra scrutiny” were required to submit their social media details. That included people who had travelled to parts of the world controlled by terrorist organisations, which was roughly 65,000 applicants a year. The new rules will affect 14.7 million people annually.
The State Department’s argument is that collecting this information “will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.” When Trump first proposed the new rules last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said that there was “no evidence that such social media monitoring is effective or fair”.
“US demands social media details from visa applicants” reports @BBCWorld. On the face of it, this seems rather extraordinary. If an authoritarian regime was demanding such information ℹ️ from visa applicants, wouldn’t eyebrows be raised? https://t.co/B0qyQZk6qk
— Helen Clark (@HelenClarkNZ) June 1, 2019
In addition to social media details, applicants will also have to submit five years’ worth of email addresses and phone numbers. Thank god the era of embarrassing Hotmail email addresses is over.
But seriously, this sets a fairly disturbing precedent, and the information gleaned from applicants’ social media pages could be used to deny them visas for all sorts of vague reasons. What if a journalist who has reported on Trump in a critical way wants to visit the US for a conference? What if an activist who has organised protests against American government policies wants to study in the US? Will they be allowed to enter, or will the information found on their social media profiles be held against them?
As former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark said on Twitter, “if an authoritarian regime was demanding such information from visa applicants, wouldn’t eyebrows be raised?”
Consider my eyebrows raised.