New social media requirements for US visa applications

US visa applicants will be asked to provide additional information, including their social media handles.
US visa applicants will be asked to provide additional information, including their social media handles.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The United States embassy here has begun requesting social media handles from visa applicants as part of the visa application process worldwide.

This is on the need-to basis when the consular officer determines more information is necessary "to confirm identity or to conduct more rigorous national security vetting", an embassy spokesman told The Straits Times on Friday (June 2).

The changes are estimated to affect "only a fraction of one percent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide", said the spokesman, Ms Camille Dawson.

She added that consular officers will not ask for social media passwords, interact with individuals on social media, or attempt to circumvent their privacy settings.

Under a supplemental questionnaire which was implemented as of May 25, visa applicants will be asked to provide additional information, including their social media handles, prior passport numbers, additional information about family members, and a longer history of past travel, employment, and contact information.

In the event that the additional information is not provided and a consular officer determines that the information is necessary to make a decision on the visa application, the application could be denied unless "a credible explanation" is provided, added Ms Dawson.

The questionnaire was rolled out in response to President Donald Trump's March 6 memo mandating enhanced visa screening.

The proposal was approved on a temporary basis on May 23 and the Department of State began implementing it on May 25, said Ms Dawson.

Ms Rachel Goh, 22, who is a second-year undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University NTU) looking to do a semester abroad in the United States (US), said she did not mind this additional information being asked of her.

"It's a lot of paperwork to get a visa to begin with, and this is just one more thing. It's annoying, but I don't really see it as an invasion of privacy."

Ms Gabriela Lim, 21, another second-year NTU student looking to study abroad in the US as well, concurred that she does not feel like it is a breach of privacy.

She said: "If they really wanted to, they could have access to all of our social media anyway, so at least this way they are being open about it."

revathiv@sph.com.sg