- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2017

The State Department has implemented a new vetting process requiring certain visa applicants to give the government a list of their email addresses and social media handles, much to the chagrin of immigration attorneys and free-speech advocates.

Foreigners seeking American visas may now be asked to answer a supplemental questionnaire requesting biographical information including addresses, employment and travel histories, as well as five years’ worth of social media handles and email addresses, according to a policy change quietly put in place by the Trump administration last week.

While millions of individuals apply annually for American visas, the State Department said the new questionnaire will only be given to applicants in instances where officials have determined “that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting,” Reuters reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed agency source.

“Collecting additional information from visa applicants whose circumstances suggest a need for further scrutiny will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” an anonymous State Department official told Fox News Friday. “We estimate these changes would affect only a fraction of one percent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide.”

The State Department requested permission to use the questionnaire early last month and was given the green light by the Office of Management and Budget on May 23, Reuters reported. It took effect two days later.

Specifically the form asks applicants to list all email addresses used in the last five years, “including primary, secondary, work, personal and educational addresses,” as well as their handles for any websites or applications “used to create or share content” publicly during that same span. It doesn’t seek applicants’ passwords, and consular officers have been directed not to engage or interact with the social media accounts of visa seekers, the State Department said previously.

The questions are voluntary, but failure to answer may complicate the application process, according to the State Department.

“If a consular officer determines that additional information, including social media handles, is necessary in order to adjudicate a visa application, failure to provide that requested information may result in denial of the visa unless the applicant can provide a credible explanation or supporting documentation‎,” a State Department spokesperson told CNET.

According to critics, however, the new vetting process is creating new burdens for visa seekers under the appearance of added security.

“Compiling the requested information, particularly for those who do not keep meticulous records, could take several hours at a minimum, and possibly days,” the American Immigration Lawyers Association argued in opposition of the proposal last month.

“Those who are actually engaged in terrorism will simply take additional steps to hide their communications, making this information collection ineffective,” added Faiz Shakir, national political director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

About 65,000 visa applicants will be affected annually by the new questionnaire, the State Department predicted previously.

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