US extends its social media checks

BANGKOK, 27 February 2017: Social media is now the latest tool to vet travellers applying for a visa to visit the US.

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a notice, last week, confirming the Department of Homeland Security would extend its social-media vetting to include for the first time Chinese visitors.

Chinese US visa applicants will be asked to provide the names of their social-media accounts in their visa application.

Similar social media vetting has been carried out as part of the US Visa Waiver Programme, since 2016 under the Barack Obama administration.

The social media checks are carried out on citizens from Australia and Japan, as well as European Union countries including the UK.

The question on social media accounts is flagged as optional information, but travellers invariably provide details believing an omission could result in a negative interpretation during the application process.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Access Now and the Internet Association, which represents Silicon Valley tech giants, say social media checks are invasive and pose privacy risks to visitors to the United States.

Extending the question on social media to Chinese visa applications may not be that critical. Even though most Chinese visitors to the US have social-media accounts, they are on platforms that are not operating outside of China.

The new visa-application format for Chinese visitors should be up and running in two months.

(Source: Asia Times and Jing Travel)