US visa screening to check your Facebook, Twitter, other social media history now

Reminiscent of the erstwhile Cold War polemics, the US State Department will publish its new rules requiring new visitors and immigrants to the country to furnish the details of their social media history, from Facebook to Twitter, among others which may reveal their social practises, ideological inclination and mindset.

During the Cold War, leftist ideology was abhorred and in-depth scrutiny of educated visitors to the US was undertaken to vet those with pro-Soviet or pro-China ideological mindset. Now that the rivalry between the US and Russia is brewing again, the US State Department has invoked new rules of immigration clearance based on the past social media interactions, opinions and support explicitly made by the visitors or immigrants.

In addition, travelers will have to furnish their phone numbers, email addresses and travel history during the previous five years, and to reveal any immigration problems they have had, whether with the US or elsewhere. Another area will seek to probe any potential family connections to terrorism.

Above all, immigrants from countries where female genital mutilation is practised, especially in Africa, will be asked to get themselves aware of the ban on this practise in the US.

“This upgrade to visa vetting is long-overdue, and it’s appropriate to apply it to everyone seeking entry, because terrorism is a worldwide problem. The aim is to try to weed out people with radical or dangerous views,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Ms. Vaughan said the State Department should also screen female travelers who are intending to enter the U.S. for the purpose of having a child, which she termed “birth tourism.”

Initially, the Homeland Security Department had floated plans to track social media of immigrant applicants alone but the US State Department has decided to include even tourists and temporary period travelers under the scrutiny.

The new move is expected to affect nearly 14 million visitors and about 700,000 migrants, said the department.

Don Crocetti, a former senior fraud investigator for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said it makes sense to collect the information looking at social media information can’t be used on its own to deny approval.

“The use of social media is a wrench in their toolbox. It’s not that you use that same wrench for everything you do, but it’s a wrench, it’s a different-sized tool, and you have use that selectively,” he said.

The State Department said it already collects limited information about travel history and family relations. “Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” the department said.

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