- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2017

Legislation proposed in the House of Representatives on Thursday would require federal immigration officials to inspect the social media accounts of visa applicants attempting to enter the United States.

Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, made his legislative debut in Washington this week by way of offering the Visa Investigation and Social Media Act (VISA) of 2017 — his first bill since being elected last year to represent the state’s 3rd congressional district.

If approved, the bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to review visa applicants’ publicly available internet activity, “just as employers review job seekers’ social media,” Mr. Banks said on Twitter.

“This is a common sense way to increase security and ensure those who wish to harm Americans cannot enter the U.S.,” he tweeted Thursday.

Although visa applicants are already subject to scrutiny while seeking admittance, authorities aren’t currently mandated to review the social-media accounts of everyone seeking to enter the country.

Mr. Banks’ bill would change that by expanding the scope of DHS-conducted background checks to include social-media reviews for all individuals applying for a visa, his office said in a statement Thursday, taking into consideration the “public tweets, YouTube videos, Facebook photos and posts” of applicants.

Additional provisions of the VISA Act would require DHS to interview each applicant 11 years of age and older and conduct a fraud-prevention check of each applicant’s documentation, among other measures.

“We must have confidence that those entering our country do not intend us harm,” he said. “Employers vet job candidates this way, and I think it’s time we do the same for visa applicants.”

The bill, H.R. 1125, would “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for new procedures pertaining to the processing of petitions and applications for immigrant or nonimmigrant visas, and for other purposes,” according to a copy reviewed by The Washington Times. It was referred Thursday to both the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees, congressional records indicate.

The congressman’s proposal would not affect the Visa Waiver Program, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported. That program currently allows citizens of 38 mostly European nations to enter the U.S. for three months at a time sans visa. The Obama administration revised the application form for that program last year to include an optional question that asks foreigns to “enter information associated with your online presence,” much to the chagrin of privacy advocates and tech sector stakeholders.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified earlier this month that President Trump’s administration has considered requiring stricter social media reviews for refugees and visa applicants from the seven Muslim-majority countries affected by the White House’s travel ban.

“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?” Mr. Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee. “If they don’t want to cooperate, then you don’t come in.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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