(web desk) – Remember the time you said ‘Down with America’ on Facebook, or called elected American officials a bunch of idiots some years back. Well, it seems you would need to go back in your social media feeds and delete such remarks as they will definitely come to bite you back in case you are intending to go to the United States. According to Reuters, the US government has formulated new rules and has come up with a new set of questions for US visa applicants worldwide that ask for applicants’ history of social media handles for the past five years and biographical information going back 15 years.
The new measures are a part of renewed efforts by the Trump administration to tighten vetting of prospective US visa applicants. The new questions were approved by the United States on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget and have reportedly received widespread criticism from education officials and academic groups.
Critics are of the opinion that the new questions would be a huge burden for applicants and would be highly inconvenient for them. Such questions would not only be time consuming on part of applicants but would also lead to longer processing times, discouraging international students and scientists from coming to the United States.
Under the new rules, consular officials will have the authority to request all previous passport numbers, five years worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history. It’s going to be quite embarrassing when you will have to reveal your first email address such as ‘heartbreakid’ or ‘innocentprincess’.
A US State Department official informed media that officials would request the additional information “when they feel that such information is necessary to confirm a person’s identity or conduct more rigorous security vetting”. The US State Department had earlier informed media that this sort of tighter vetting would be applicable to those visa applicants “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities”.
US President Donald Trump has introduced various measures to strengthen US national security since coming to power. This has included a plan to build a border wall on the US-Mexico border, which still has not materialized. In January, the then newly-inaugurated president signed an executive order banning entry for 90 days into the US by citizens of seven Muslim majority countries. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on the ban and over the next few weeks, courts turned down repeated requests by the US government to reinstate the ban. A new executive order was issued in March, exempting Iraq from the list, but was blocked hours before it was about to begin by a US district court judge in Hawaii.
As for the new set of questions for US applicants, it remains to be seen what judicial response these new rules will get. The rules are already getting criticism from academic circles but it is yet uncertain whether this issue will receive widespread opposition.
According to Reuters, the Office of Management and Budget has granted emergency approval for the new questions for six months, rather than the usual three years. Immigration officials are of the view that these rules will most likely affect applicants who have made honest mistakes on social media or are unable to remember all the information requested, e.g. past email addresses. Moreover, Reuters also cited a San-Francisco based lawyer and president of the Iranian American Bar Association as saying that the new rules will give ‘arbitrary power’ to consular officials to determine who gets their visa approved with no check on consular decisions.