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US Visa Scrutiny To Get Tougher, Deadline For Public Comments Ends Soon

The proposal may ask applicants to provide prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers.
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Applicants may be asked to provide their social media accounts as US looks to step up vetting.
Applicants may be asked to provide their social media accounts as US looks to step up vetting.
In a push towards "extreme vetting" of immigrants to the US signaled by the Trump Administration, the U.S. Department of State had proposed tougher questioning of visa applicants which would involve questions about social media accounts, a notice on the US Federal Register showed. Meanwhile a window for the public to comment on the move is set to close by May 18, according to the Federal Register website. The public forum has so far attracted 67 comments with a majority of people objecting to the stepped-up scrutiny.

"I am very worried about the request for information going back 15 years. First, the description of these new visa rules does not include any evidence that it will make us safer," one commentator said, adding that having to provide such a long history could scare away many potential visitors for the fear of being unable to accurately recall the information.

However a few commented in support of the proposal. "This proposal is an excellent idea. It is imperative that we keep American citizens safe from potential terrorists. I believe the State department should collect this information," a commentator, Judith Harnett said.

Many comments voiced concerns over the lack of safe guards in the document to prevent the rules from being applied unfairly to applicants based on their race or nationality and over possible breach of privacy.

While the increased scrutiny will not be applicable for everyone, social media accounts of about 65,000 people per year, or about 0.5 percent of US visa applicants worldwide will be vetted, the State Department has estimated.

If the proposal is approved, some applicants may be asked to provide prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and biographical history going back 15 years. User passwords for social media accounts, will however not be asked for the document said. Any privacy controls set by the applicant will also not be changed, the document said.

A set of new questions would apply to visa applicants "who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities," the State Department had said in a notice to the Federal Register.

The document also said that applicants may also be asked to provide additional travel history if a consular officer determines they have been in an area which was "under the operational control of a terrorist organisation."

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