US govt to scan social media profiles of all visa applicants

The US government plans to collect social media history from nearly everyone who seeks entry into the United States, as part of President Donald Trump’s policy of “extreme vetting.”

Most immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants — about 14.7 million people - will be asked to list on a federal application form all of the social media identities that they have used in the past five years — information that will be used to vet and identify them, according to the proposals.
The State Department has published the proposals in a notice in the Federal Register seeking approval from the Office of Management and Budget. The public has 60 days to comment on the requests.
The proposals support President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge in 2016 to crack down on illegal immigration for security reasons and his call for “extreme vetting” of foreigners entering the United States.
The department said it intends not to routinely ask most diplomatic and official visa applicants for the social media information.
If approved, applicants also will be required to submit five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses and their international travel history. They will be asked if they have been deported or removed from any country and whether family members have been involved in terrorist activities, the department said.
The online application for non-immigrant visa (DS-160) is used to collect biographical information from individuals seeking a non-immigrant visa. The consular officer uses the information collected to determine the applicant’s eligibility for a visa.
Form DS-156 is required by regulation for all non-immigrant visa applicants who do not use the online application for non-immigrant visa (Form DS-160). Posts will use the DS-156 in limited circumstances when the DS-160 is unavailable, to elicit information necessary to determine an applicant's visa eligibility.
The DS-160 will be submitted electronically over an encrypted connection to the department via the internet. The applicant will be instructed to print a confirmation page containing a bar coded record locator, which will be scanned at the time of processing.
The non-immigrant visa application (DS-156) paper version will be used only in the following limited circumstances when applicants cannot access the DS-160:
  • If an applicant has an urgent medical or humanitarian travel need and the consular officer has received explicit permission from the visa office to accept form DS156;
  • If the applicant is a student exchange visitor who must leave immediately in order to arrive on time for his/her course and the consular officer has explicit permission from the visa office to accept form DS-156;
  • The applicant is a diplomatic or official traveller with urgent government business and form DS-160 has been unavailable for more than four hours; or
  • Id Form DS-160 has been unavailable for more than three days and the officer receives explicit permission from the Visa Office.
In order to obtain a copy of form DS-156, an applicant must contact the embassy or consulate at which he or she is applying, and request a copy.
Currently, the online application and paper application are approved under two separate collections. With this renewal, the department seeks to combine these into a single collection. Upon approval, the department will seek to discontinue OMB Control Number 1405-0018, the existing collection for form DS-156.
The department also is revising the collection to add several additional questions for non-immigrant visa applicants. One question lists multiple social media platforms and requires the applicant to provide any identifiers used by applicants for those platforms during the five years preceding the date of application. The platforms listed may be updated by the department by adding or removing platforms.
Additional platforms will be added only if collection is consistent with the uses described in the supporting statement and after office of management and budget approval. In addition, the applicant will be given the option to provide information about any social media identifiers associated with any platforms other than those that are listed that the applicant has used in the last five years.
Other questions seek five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, and international travel: whether the applicant has been deported or removed from any country; and whether specified family members have been involved in terrorist activities.
Additionally, some E non-immigrant visa applicants will be asked whether the principal treaty trader was issued a visa. The 'Sign and Submit’ statement will provide applicants additional information related to correcting records within Federal Bureau of Investigation databases. Finally, the revised visa application forms will include additional information regarding the visa medical examination that some applicants may be required to undergo. Additional details of the changes are available in supporting documents.
The department has sought public comments on:
  •  Whether the proposed information collection is necessary for the proper functions of the department;
  • Evaluate the accuracy of the estimate of the time and cost burden for this proposed collection, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used;
  • Enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and
  • Minimise the reporting burden on those who are to respond, including the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology.