Published on: Jun 14, 2019, Last Edited: Jun 14, 2019
Under the most recent changes to immigration regulations put in place by President Trump’s administration, nearly everyone who applies for a US visa, including temporary visitors, will now need to submit their social media history to the State Department via the DS-160 visa application form, including email and phone numbers going back five years. If the applicant has no social media accounts, they can state this on the DS-160 form. However, for ESTA visa waiver applicants, the process remains unchanged and completing the social media section of the ESTA form is optional.
When it was first proposed last year, USCIS estimated that the change to the DS-160 visa application form would annually affect nearly 15 million people. The stringent new rules will not apply to certain official and diplomatic visa applicants, but most of those travelling to the United States to study or for work will need to comply with the new regulation and submit their personal social media information.
The State Department claimed that the new rules will help to protect US citizens while supporting travel to the United States for those with legitimate reasons to do so. They pointed to the fact that they already collect all visa applicants’ travel history, contact details, family information and former addresses and that the requirement to hand over social media user names is no more intrusive.
President Trump made the toughening up of immigration law a central plank of his 2016 presidential campaign, calling for increased vetting of visa applicants. However, up to now only certain applicants such as those who had travelled to countries controlled by terrorist organisations were required to submit this data.
Because the onus lies with visa applicants to prove to immigration officials that they have no intention of overstaying their visa, the new rule looks set to provide USCIS with more reasons to deny a visa. A simple Tweet or remark from several years ago, for example, “I’d love to live in Chicago”, can now be construed as implying that the applicant intends to overstay, as could countless other reactive statements that people make in routine conversations on social media.
This could prove particularly problematic for those applying for student visas, as posts expressing their delight at the prospect of studying in a certain city could be interpreted as conveying their intentions to remain after their visas had expired.
The American Civil Liberties Union questions the need for such a draconian change to USA immigration law. They point to the fact that there is no evidence to support the claim that this form of social media monitoring is fair or effective and state that its only effect would be to cause people to censor themselves when online. The civil rights organisation also noted that the new rules present significant First Amendment concerns and issues regarding privacy.
As a surge in the numbers of migrants at the US-Mexican border continues, the Mexican government has agreed to the expansion of a plan to keep more migrants in Mexico while they are waiting for their asylum claims to be processed in the United States.
The US immigration court system is currently facing a historically high backlog of asylum applications, with almost 900,000 cases outstanding. In the wake of recent child deaths in US immigration custody, border officials have complained that more officers are needed to cope with the numbers of migrants waiting for their asylum claims to be processed.
Before the deal was announced, the president had suggested imposing a 5% trade tariff on goods from Mexico if the country did not agree to the plan. However, it later emerged that Mexico had already agreed to the terms during talks that had taken place in secret over the past 6 months.
Mexico is one of the closest trading partners of the US and had the tariff been imposed on Mexican exports, the government would have retaliated with a similar tariff on goods imported from the US. The US Treasury secretary praised the diplomatic agreement that avoided a trade war between the two countries but stressed that should Mexico’s commitment to the scheme fail to materialise, the United States still reserved the right to impose further tariffs.