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State Dept to require social media info from most visa applicants

The State Department has announced that it wants to collect more information from virtually everyone who applies for a U.S. visa -- approximately 15 million people each year. If new regulations are approved, it will begin collecting social media histories, past email accounts, phone number histories and other information from all standard visa applicants, including those visiting for business, tourism or education.

The proposal was published last week in the Federal Register, where federal regulations and proposed regulations are published. The public can post comments about the proposal for 60 days, or until May 29. Once the comment period is up, the new requirements will be approved or declined by the Office of Management and Budget.

According to the Associated Press, the new requirements would affect both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants. Every year, there are approximately 710,000 applicants for immigrant visas, which allow the visa holder to seek the status of lawful permanent resident. There are some 14 million applicants annually for nonimmigrant visas such as short-term business, student and tourist visas.

If the proposal is approved, virtually all visa applicants would be required to provide at least:

  • Five years' worth of user names on specified social media platforms
  • Five years' worth of previously used telephone numbers
  • Five years' worth of email addresses
  • Five years' worth of international travel history
  • Any prior immigration violations
  • Whether specified family members have been involved in terrorist activities

Additionally, applicants would be encouraged to list any user names on social media platforms not specified on the application.

Only applicants for certain official and diplomatic visas would be exempt from the new requirements. In the past, this information was only required from people selected for additional scrutiny. Each year, approximately 65,000 visa applicants have been asked to provide this information after being flagged for enhanced scrutiny. For example, they may have traveled to areas thought to be controlled by terrorist organizations.

Until the public comment period is over and the Office of Management and Budget makes a final decision, we will not know whether these new requirements will take effect. As always, if you are interested in applying for a U.S. visa but have questions or concerns, please contact an immigration lawyer. All meetings with immigration lawyers are completely confidential.

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