State Department Moves Forward on Collecting Immigrant Social-Media Information

State Department seeks to screen social media of visa applicants

State Department Moves Forward on Collecting Immigrant Social-Media Information

The so-called "extreme vetting" urged by U.S. President Donald Trump could likely affect some Costa Ricans applying for a visa to the United States, who may be questioned about their social media accounts, along with about 15 years of information on work and travel history. Visa applicants will not only give up their social media accounts but also the countries they have visited in the past 15 years along with cell phone numbers or emails they have used the past five years.

The proposed requirements would apply to visa applicants identified for extra scrutinies, such as those who have traveled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations.

This changes current policy in several ways.

Visa applicants had previously only been asked to provide details of the last five years, rather than fifteen, of their travel and work history.

The public has until May 18 to comment on the proposal that the State Department submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval.

It implements a provision of an executive order signed in March, which, citing terrorism concerns, banned travel to the U.S.by people from six majority-Muslim countries.

Homeland Security officials have said social media accounts for some asylum seekers and visa applicants would be checked.

Since previous year, immigration officials have sought social media information from some foreigners arriving at US border checkpoints, but that information had not previously been required on visa applications.

"The more effective tactics are the methods that we now use to monitor terrorist organisations, not just stumbling into the terrorist who is dumb enough to post on his Facebook page 'I am going to blow something up in the United States, '" John Sandweg, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, told Reuters.

Immigration lawyers and advocates say that the measures may gum up the entry process for immigrants who simply can't remember their past social media handles, for example. Not supplying handles "will not necessarily result in visa denial", but applicants must provide a "credible explanation" for not revealing the info or risk having their visa denied.

And the failure to provide all the details sought may not necessarily lead to the denial of visa, if the consular officer is satisfied the applicant has provided "a credible explanation why he or she can not answer a question or provide requested supporting documentation".

The State Department estimates that 0.5 percent of worldwide visa applicants would be affected by this measure if enacted, which comes to about 65,000 people per year, according to Reuters.

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