AP — The United States now wants to know the social-media user names of people applying for visas, part of stepped up screening of foreign visitors and immigrants.
The change, first announced last year and taking effect this month, follows on a 2017 order by President Donald Trump requiring heightened vetting for visa applicants, according to a State Department official.
An estimated 14 million travelers and 710,000 immigrants to the US each year will be affected by the changes, according to notes in the Federal Register.
The official said national security is the top priority and every would-be traveler or immigrant already faced screening, including requirements to list their travel history, family member information, and previous addresses.
The American Civil Liberties Union had opposed the proposal, arguing the questions would create “an environment ripe for profiling and discrimination.”
“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 U.S. State Department said in a statement to the AP. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”
In the past, this enhanced screening information, including email, phone numbers and social media had only been required for applicants who had been identified for extra scrutiny — primarily people who had traveled to areas with a high degree of terrorist activity. Roughly 65,000 applicants per-year had fallen into that category, according to the AP.
New questions on the visa application forms list social media platforms and require applicants to provide any account names they may have had on them for a five-year period. The forms also request phone numbers and email addresses applicants have used over the past five years, along with their international travel and deportation status and whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.
These new obstacles to immigration come at a time when competition for highly-skilled talent is at an all-time high. And according to data from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, the US is no longer the top-ranked destination for highly skilled workers or entrepreneurs.
Increasingly, immigrants are turning to countries like Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand as destinations to settle and start businesses or find work, OECD data suggests.
It’s a (not unexpected) turn of events that could have significant consequences for the country as tensions with China continue to rise.