On March 30, 2018, the U.S. Department of State issued a notice of request for public comment in the Federal Register regarding a new rule it intends to apply to all visa applications by foreign nationals for visitor visas, temporary work visas and immigrant visas. This rule includes a proposal that an estimated 14.7 million people annually will be asked to submit their social media usernames for the past five years prior to submitting their visa application.
In the fall of 2017, the Trump administration announced that only applicants for immigrant visas would be asked for social media data. This requirement would have covered an estimated 710,000 people annually. The new proposal in the Federal Register broadens that order to cover approximately 14 million people applying for nonimmigrant (temporary) work visas every year. The proposal covers 20 social media platforms, including Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and YouTube. Several of the platforms are located overseas, including the Chinese sites Douban, QQ, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo and Youku Tudou, the Russian social network VK and the Belgian platform, Twoo.
In addition to social media disclosures, visa applicants will be asked for information related to past passport numbers, phone numbers, email addresses, records of international travel, whether they have been deported or removed from any country, violated immigration law and whether their relatives have been involved in terrorist activities. The U.S. Department of State indicates that it currently requests limited contact information from visa applicants, and solicitation of this additional information will prove to strengthen its vetting process to confirm the identity of visa applicants and possible threats to the United States.
Citizens of countries participating in the ESTA visa waiver program will not be affected by these requirements. These include countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea. In addition, visitors traveling on diplomatic and official visas will primarily be exempted from the requirement.
The new rule will not take effect immediately. A 60-day comment period ends on May 29.
It would be best for legal counsel and human resource personnel to alert foreign nationals applying for nonimmigrant and immigrant visas at consular posts abroad that after May 29, 2018, requests for social media handles, personal contact information and prior passport documentation may be requested at a consular interview. Preparation well in advance would be recommended.