Social Media Screening Won’t Slow Down the Visa Process, State Department Says

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The department wants to screen five years of social media and email from all visa applicants but doesn’t expect longer processing time “for most visa cases.”

The State Department wants to screen five years worth of emails, phone logs and social media accounts for every visa applicant, but that won’t add any time to the approval process, according to an agency official.

“Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” the State Department official told Nextgov. “While each case is adjudicated individually, we do not believe this additional information collection will substantially lengthen processing time for most visa cases.”

The State Department on Friday proposed a change to the visa application process that would dramatically increase the amount of personal information applicants must share before they can enter the country. The new policy would require all immigrant and non-immigrant applicants to hand over all social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers used during the last five years.

It also would increase the amount of information applicants must disclose about family members, employment and past travel.

Such intense measures were previously reserved for individuals the agency thought warranted “additional scrutiny,” like those who previously traveled to countries with high rates of terrorism. Currently, about 65,000 applicants are subjected to “extreme vetting” every year, but the proposal would extend the process to each of the 15 million people who annually apply for visas.

“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” the official said. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to support legitimate travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S. citizens.”

People also would be asked to provide handles for any social media platforms that aren’t listed on the visa application, but the official confirmed the agency wouldn’t ask for any social media or email passwords.

The proposal will remain open for public comment until May 29, after which it will head to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.