The Trump administration is seeking to change visa applications to require all applicants to turn over five years of social media history.
The move is a major expansion of President Donald Trump’s effort to implement “extreme vetting” and change how immigrants and visitors to the U.S. are processed.
The proposed new rule would require foreigners applying for a visa to include their social media usernames on various platforms including Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, as well as previous email addresses, phone numbers, international travel — all from the last five years.
The State Department, which filed a notice of the proposed change, estimates it will affect 14.71 million applicants, including those who apply as students, for business trips, or on vacation.
Last May, the administration changed procedures to allow consular officers who process applicants at U.S. missions around the world to request more information from applicants if they had suspicions or doubts. For the first time, they included social media accounts, as well as prior passport numbers, greater detail about family members, and longer personal history, including travel, employment, and residence for the last 15 years, instead of the last five that applicants were already asked for.
But now, every applicant will be required to include five years of social media usernames on their application – some 15 million foreigners who apply for U.S. visas each year – although certain diplomatic and official visa applicants would usually be exempt.
The idea of collecting social media information of visa applicants started during the Obama administration following the 2015 San Bernardino attack. At the current pace of data collection, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is unable to process the information by themselves, and has sought an outside vendor to handle data processing. Given the massive increase of data that would accumulate if this change were to be approved, the need for a vendor to handle this information would be particularly urgent.
The proposed changes also mean that immigrant visa applicants from countries where female genital mutilation or cutting is prevalent would have to check a box to indicate they have been told the practice is illegal in the U.S. FGM is a non-medical procedure that involves the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs,” common in some cultures in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.
The practice has been illegal in the U.S. since 1996, and since then, non-immigrant visa applicants have been provided similar information — a requirement of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
There is now a 60-day window for public comments on the proposal that starts Friday and after which time, the rule could be implemented.