Want a US visa? You may now have to provide your social media details to authorities

Since 2016, immigration officials have sought social media information from some foreigners, but that information wasn't required on visa applications.

The US state department has now decided to review social media, email addresses and phone numbers from some foreigners seeking US visas, as part of Donald Trump’s administration’s enhanced screening of potential visitors and immigrants. According to various media reports, the department in a statement said that it was seeking public comment on the requirement. However, it also said that it is requesting a temporary go-ahead from the White House budget office so the plan can take effect for 180 days, beginning May 18, regardless of those public comments.

According to an AP report, these proposed requirements would apply to visa applicants identified for extra scrutiny, such as those who have been to countries/regions controlled by terrorist organisations. The US state department believes that this move will affect about 0.5 percent of total US visa applicants, or roughly 65,000 people.

Affected applicants would have to provide their social media handles and platforms used during the previous five years, and divulge all phone numbers and email addresses used during that period.

Since 2016, 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 new rules also would require applicants to provide 15 years of travel and work history and the names and dates of birth of all siblings, children and current and former spouses or partners.

Earlier, visa applicants were required to provide only five years of travel and work history and were not asked for information about their siblings.

The state department said it wanted the additional information “in order to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.”

Following the decision, immigration lawyers and advocates claimed that the request for 15 years of detailed biographical information, as well as the expectation that applicants remember all their social media handles, is likely to catch visa applicants who make innocent mistakes or do not remember all the information requested.