U.S. visa process needs social media profiles now

Visa applicants wait outside a U.S. consulate. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

In a significant move to increase surveillance of those seeking to enter the United States, Washington will require most individuals applying for visas to provide details of their social media handles going back five years. The rule is expected to affect close to 15 million people annually.

Online visa forms that require social media account history became operational at the end of last week and will cover all applicants except those applying for certain official and diplomatic visas.

The rule to expand social media history data collection to all immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants was first published by the State Department in April 2018. It was an outcome of President Donald Trump’s desire to put in place a policy of “extreme vetting” of foreigners entering the country, a theme articulated during his campaign and via executive orders in 2017.

Earlier, social media information was asked of only certain individuals whose applications required further review. Now the information is required as part of all immigrant (form DS-260) and non-immigrant (form DS-160) online visa applications.

A high volume of Indian applications is likely to be impacted by the new proposal.

Processing times for visas to the United States are likely to go up significantly following the implementation of a new rule since last week requiring applicants to declare their social media profiles for the last five years .

“Processing times will take much longer — as the DoS [Department of State] investigation team will undertake research based on the info and may decide to contact and look into others associated through the social media platforms,” Sheela Murthy, founder of Murthy Law firm that specializes in immigration law, told The Hindu.

Applicants have the option of saying they do not use social media but lying could have “serious immigration consequences”, a State Department official told The Hill, a Washington DC based news outlet.

The drop down list in the visa application forms now only provides options to declare major social media handles, but there will soon be options to list other sites, The Hill reported.

“About 10 to 12 Lakh Indian citizens will be affected annually by this social medial policy,” Rahul Reddy, a partner at Reddy and Neumann, specialists in business-related immigration, told The Hindu.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had called the proposal “ineffective and deeply problematic” when it was initially proposed by the State Department in 2018.

“There is also no evidence that such social media monitoring is effective or fair, especially in the absence of criteria to guide the use of social media information in the visa adjudication process,” the ACLU had said.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 5:54:18 PM |

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