US unveils nosy new visa questionnaire

Marsha Scott
June 2, 2017

Earlier this year, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly told a House committee USA visitors could be asked to surrender passwords for their social media accounts for examination by law enforcement. The changes to the questionnaire were approved back on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget.

Quoting an unnamed State Department official, Reuters reported that the additional information would only be requested when the department determines that "such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting".

The extended vetting procedures also allow consular officials to request biographical information such as past addresses, travel history and employment spanning the last 15 years.

Reports also have indicated the Trump administration is considering the possibility of requiring people traveling to the provide cell phone contacts, bank records, social media passwords and other personal information.

Immigration lawyers and advocates say the request for 15 years of detailed biographical information, as well as the expectation that applicants remember all their social media handles, is likely to catch applicants who make innocent mistakes or do not remember all the information requested.

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The US State department estimates that this would affect 65,000 applicants a year, or 0.5 percent of all applicants, and would require 65,000 more hours of work per year.

The Department of Homeland Security began asking visitors for social media information-including Facebook and LinkedIn accounts-on a voluntary basis a year ago, and the Trump Administration has since moved aggressively to expand the vetting tactic.

Critics of the proposal have argued that the new questionnaire would be burdensome for the applicants, lead to delays in processing visas, and discourage global students and scientists from coming to the US. "The need for tightening the application process further is really unknown and unclear". According to Reuters, the questionnaire has been approved for use by consular officials for the next six months, rather than the traditional three years.

United States border officials already ask for social media handles when passengers arrive at the border, a recent change that was criticized as "highly invasive" by privacy and rights groups.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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