Trump’s State Department approved a new set of questions that can be asked of would-be travelers during the interview process for a visa application to the United States. This would include a potential background check of all their social media handles and unique usernames for any websites or applications that the applicant may have used to create or share content (photos, videos, status updates, etc.) as part of a public profile within the last five years. Although answering the new supplemental questions within the new Form DS 5535 is said to be voluntary, failure to do so may delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application.
What will be Asked as a Part of Social Media?
It is stated that not each and every applicant will be put through this vetting process and neither be necessarily denied a visa, however, it does allow the Consular Officer to identify individual cases, based on circumstances to specifically review and indicate the need for further evaluation which includes all the social media handles of the applicant. The Office of Management and Budget points out that user passwords will not be requested nor will any applicant’s privacy controls on these social media platforms be subverted in any manner.
Apart from this, the Form DS 5535 asks the following details, some of which may have already been provided on other forms, though for shorter periods of time:
- Travel history during the past 15 years, including source of funding for travel.
- Address history during the past 15 years.
- Employment history during the past 15 years.
- All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant.
- Names and dates of birth for all siblings.
- Name and dates of birth for all children.
- Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners.
- Phone numbers and email addresses used during the past five years.
While this kind of detailed inquiry on the forms comes in light of the intense scrutiny that the Trump administration has promised to implement on all travelers coming into the United States, be it as a legal immigrant, or merely a business visitor, it has been approved only for six months so far, rather than the usual three years. Critics believe that this kind of rigorous vetting can misconstrue harmless rants on social media like Facebook and/or Twitter, and give the Consular Officer a larger purview to reject a legitimate visa applicant. In defense of the new program, the State Department intends to utilize this gathered information to identify any terrorist-related red-flags in the applicant’s history and base its decision to grant a visa on that.
The new questionnaire applies specifically to visa applicants not using the visa waiver program. However, December 2016 saw some visa waiver travelers being put through the ‘social media identifiers’ program.