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The US visa process to scrutinize visa applicant’s social media profiles: Why it shouldn't concern an Indian student?

According to newly adopted rules, the US State Department will scrutinize every visa applicant's social media profiles from June 2019. As a result, every visa applicant and existing visa holder should provide their social media profiles as part of background verification.

Social Media, which is a medium for unproductiveness, has now become an integral part of our lives. In the form of entertainment, professional networking, business marketing and much more. So much so that, now, the US government is using social media to understand an applicant’s intentions, habits, networks, and other security-critical information. 

Read on to understand why social media data is and its implications. 

How does it work?

The new rule will roughly affect 15 million US visa applicants around the world every year. However, it will exempt a few diplomatic and official visa applicants. 

People traveling to the United States for work, study, tourism, or an idea to settle in the country will have to share their social media profiles. This change is for the online nonimmigrant visa application form (DS-160), paperback nonimmigrant visa application form (DS-156), and the online immigrant visa application form (DS-260). 

The applicant will have to choose from 20 social media options from the drop-down menu in the form. The social media options include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Youtube, Tumblr, Vine, Flickr, and other social media platforms outside the US like Tencent, Weibo, and Youku.  

There will be an option for the applicant to choose social media platforms and provide respective user information. If the applicant genuinely does not have any social media accounts, there is an option to choose none and proceed forward. However, if found lying, the applicant might have to face dire immigration consequences. 

In addition to providing social media profiles of the past 5 years, the applicant will also have to provide email addresses, phone numbers, and past international travel history in use for the past 5 years. However, it was confirmed that only usernames have to be provided and no password details will be asked. 

The new visa requirements will also ask if the applicant and their family were involved in any terrorism-related activity. 

Those who are found to be lying will face serious consequences. Though the consequences have not been mentioned, it might be a cancellation of visa and other such immigration-related difficulties.

Why it was started?

Before 2014, social media profile verification was a rare occasion. This is done to identify a person entering the US and was later prohibited by the then Obama administration. Only people coming from parts of the world controlled by terrorist groups were under scrutiny. 

However, it became a common procedure when a married couple Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, both of whom have appeared for a visa interview and became permanent residents of the US have opened fire on the public in San Bernardino on December 02, 2015. It was suggested at the time that these people have been sharing violent messages on social media and through emails. 

Since then the verification of a visa applicant's social media profile has become part of the procedure. This is done when the applicant was found to be suspicious. However, providing one’s social media accounts was voluntary at that time. 

In 2018, under President Trump’s administration, it was proposed to make social media verification mandatory. This rule was implemented in the month of June 2019. And this rule is applicable to the Green Card holders already in the US as well. 

General concerns and why you shouldn't be worried?

Social media is an open platform where people share sensitive information. Information like pictures, relationships, birth dates, locations, and a whole lot of personal information. People might not be open to sharing this data with a government organization. 

Therefore, this stringent surveillance might discourage visa applicants from choosing the US for work, study, etc. As this kind of monitoring can have an uncomfortable effect on people. Making them less likely to speak their mind or interact with people freely. 

However, it should be understood that this action is taken only to weed out terrorists and people with violent behavior from entering the US soil. Off late, social media has become a major forum for terrorist activities and discussions. If used properly, social media can become an important tool. A tool to identify terrorists and people who are a threat to others. 

Just recently, on August 3rd, 2019, a gunman opened fire in Walmart, Texas and killed 22 people. Another gunman on August 4th killed 9 people in Dayton, Ohio. One of the gunmen had posted a manifesto on an online social media forum 8chan. This was the 3rd time such incident was found on a social media platform this year before an attack. 

President Trump's urge to social media companies

Following this, President Donald Trump urged social media companies to detect such terrorist activities. With this, it is understandable that social media platforms have increasingly become a medium for such deranged gunmen and terror outfits to voice their intentions and sentiments. Stringent actions should be taken to detect such activities beforehand and ceased. 

This does not mean that people will lose the freedom to voice their opinions or share things online freely. As long as their opinions are not hurting someone's sentiments or not posing a threat to the community, they can still use social media platform sensibly, like they used to. 

A student looking to study, or find work, or even migrate to the US need not feel discouraged with this visa applicant's social media scrutiny. Moreover, this is only going to increase the safety of people planning to go to the US and the people already living there.

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