Social media handles may be needed for US visas

Passengers arrive from international flights, on March 21, 2017, at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Passengers arrive from international flights, on March 21, 2017, at John F. Kennedy International Airport. PHOTO: AFP

Data may be used to confirm identity or to conduct more rigorous vetting: US Embassy

The United States Embassy in Singapore has begun requesting social media handles, or user names, from visa applicants as part of the application process worldwide.

This is on a need-to basis when the consular officer determines more information is necessary "to confirm identity or to conduct more rigorous national security vetting", embassy spokesman Camille Dawson told The Straits Times yesterday.

The changes are estimated to affect "only a fraction of 1 per cent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide", said Ms 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 on 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.

TRANSPARENCY

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.

MS GABRIELA LIM, a second-year NTU student looking to study in the US, on the additional information being asked of some visa applicants.

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

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

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

Ms Gabriela Lim, 21, another second-year NTU student looking to study abroad in the US, also does not feel 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'Social media handles may be needed for US visas'. Print Edition | Subscribe