The Impact of Social Media Grows: Visa Applicants Subject to Social Media Checks

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While countless parents are worried that their child is spending too much time on social media, the U.S. State Department’s recent decision has made this concern a reality for visa applicants.

According to new reports, those applying for most U.S. visas will be subjected to social media background checks for up to five years of activity. This includes social media handles, emails, and phone numbers.

Though the average American spends up to eight and a half hours each day in front of a screen, some immigrants may face similar rates of social media usage. This new rule affects nearly all visa applicants save for those pertaining to diplomats and similar officials.

“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” reports one State Department official in an interview with The Daily News. “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.”

Before this new law was put into place, visa applicants only had to supply social media account information if they warranted additional scrutiny. This typically pertained to individuals thought to have connections to terrorist organizations and other issues pertaining the security.

According to Forbes, this new policy will affect more than 14.7 million people each year, including those traveling for business, vacations, education, and more. This consists of over 14 million nonimmigrant visa applications and more than 700,000 immigrant applications

But this decision hasn’t been made without some push-back. Hina Shamsi, the director for the ACLU National Security Project, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Trump administration’s decision since the discussion started last year.

“It will infringe on the rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official,” Shamsi said in a statement last year. “We’re also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and overbroad term ‘terrorist activities’ because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong.”

A recent opinion article published by Bloomberg notes the benefits that immigrants have had on U.S. locations and regional markets.

It notes that the states with the highest populations of immigrants experience tremendous growth compared to locations with the lowest influx of immigrants. Thanks to information garnered from the Pew Research Center, Bloomberg reports that personal income grew by more than 10% in these locations in the last two-and-a-half years. Regional markets in these states also grew by almost 4% in the same period of time.

It’s also thanks to the mixing of cultures that we have experienced some of the most unique dishes in the United States. Maize was first domesticated in Mexico thousands of years ago, tracing back to 1200 BCE. Tex-Mex, creole dishes, cajun food, and other unique cuisines were birthed from the intermingling of cultures in the United States. In fact, cajun food only made it to the U.S. after Acadian immigrants fled from Canada back in the 18th century.

According to State Department officials, implementing such security measures will strengthen the United States’ vetting process and help in identity confirmation. However, many are concerned that this is a violation of the individual’s privacy.

Some of the social media handles that are asked for in the visa application include Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, according to Forbes. However, applicants can also submit more if they so choose.

Back in 2018, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration found that up to 50% of internet users refrained from using the web due to privacy and security concerns associated with identity theft. Should another person create an online profile using someone’s information, this also opens the door for possible visa rejection.

Shamsi notes that the new law is “a dangerous and problematic proposal, which does nothing to protect security concerns but raises significant privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for citizens and immigrants.”

Social media has impacted nearly every facet of American life and immigrants are no exception. The new law was put into effect last Friday.