The United States State Department announced this week that it will update nonimmigrant visa forms to require aliens to provide additional details about “their social media handles along with other information” going back five years, as reported by CNN. The State Department released a statement justifying their decision, explaining that they “already request certain contact information, travel history, family member identification, and previous addresses from all visa applicants.” Despite a considerable amount of push-back, the State Department holds firm that the demand for aliens’ social media information is not more intrusive or severe than other existing provisions and that such measures must be put in place to protect U.S. citizens.

This measure is an attempt to provide more information on nonimmigrant visa applicants to consular officers, who hold sole discretion in approving or denying visa applications. According to section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USCS 1184(b)):

Every alien … shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he[/she] establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he[/she] is entitled to a nonimmigrant status.

In other words, this means that an alien applying for a nonimmigrant visa must prove to the satisfaction of the consular officer that they do not intend to overstay their visa, additionally, if their application is denied, there is no appeal process. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), argues that this requirement “raises significant privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for citizens and immigrants.” Noting that the social media provisions “create an artificial divide between U.S. citizens, whose speech and information on Facebook or Twitter is protected by the First Amendment, and noncitizen visa applicants, whose information is not,” as reported by CNN.

This decision marks a major shift in visa application requirements, as social media, email, and phone number histories had only been required in the past for applicants who were identified for additional scrutiny, such as those who’d traveled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations. By now expanding these requirements to all nonimmigrant visa applicants, the State Department argues that the additional information:

Will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.

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Updated: Thu, Jun 20th 2019 @ 12:15pm EDT