Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

US asks for social media details of most visa applicants


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Changing visa norms by US and its implication on Indians

  • The US government on updated visa application forms to require nearly all applicants to provide their social media usernames, email addresses, and phone numbers for the past five years.
  • The requirement to provide the additional information is in line with the Trump administration’s decision to ensure more stringent screening of potential immigrants and visitors to the US.

Stringent screening of visa applicants

  • More than a million non-immigrant and immigrant US visas are given to Indians every year.
  • In 2018, 28,073 Indians were issued American immigrant visas, the vast majority of which passed through the “family preference” process.
  • Since 2009, the biggest jump in the number of Indian immigrants to the US — almost 20% — was seen during 2014-2015.
  • But after reaching a peak of 31,360 in 2016, the numbers of immigrant visas issued to Indians dropped in 2017.
  • In 2018, the US issued 10,06,802 nonimmigrant visas to Indians, the third largest national group behind the Chinese and Mexicans, and amounting to a little over 11% of total nonimmigrant visa issuances.

How the new policy will work?

  • The change affects the nonimmigrant visa online application form (DS-160), the paper back-up nonimmigrant visa application (DS-156), and the online immigrant visa application form (DS-260).
  • Applicants will be expected to choose from 20 online platforms, including Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and YouTube, and provide their usernames on the platforms.
  • Among the social media platforms based outside the United States on the list are Tencent Weibo, Twoo, and Youku.

Why the change

  • Trump administration is trying to improve screening processes to protect US citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.
  • The statement clarified that consular officers will not request user passwords and that the information will be used to determine if the applicant is eligible for a visa under existing US law.
  • Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen the process for vetting applicants and confirming their identity.

Concerns over the move

  • Social media is an intricate map of its users’ contacts, associations, habits and preferences.
  • Full information on accounts will give the US government access to a visa applicant’s pictures, locations, birthdays, anniversaries, friendships, relationships and a whole trove of personal data.
  • The sweeping surveillance potential of the new regulations could discourage a wide range of visa applicants.
  • Research shows that this kind of monitoring has chilling effects, meaning that people are less likely to speak freely and connect with each other in online communities that are now essential to modern life.
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