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Applying for a US visa? Be prepared to share your social media history

The key to entering the 'land of dreams' lies in your profile pictures and your Instagram bio.
BY Anandamayee Singh |   12-06-2019

BrainGain Magazine

On May 31, the U.S.  State Department announced a new policy that required both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants to provide their social media history for the past five years. This policy comes on the tails of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service department decreasing the length of H1-B visas for Chinese nationals. Both of these measure are indicative of the U.S. government's dedication to a thorough vetting process, for the sake of American safety.

This new social media centered policy is expected to impact 15 million visa applicants and has largelyreceivedcriticism. Those who oppose it are concerned about a violation privacy and censorship on online platforms. Unsurprisingly, however, the policy itself is not a radical shift in terms of what actually goes on behind the scenes. During the Obama administration, Homeland Security regularly screened the social media accounts of prospective immigrants. The practice became more common after the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, as one of the shooters had been posting violent messages on her private Facebook account. Applicants also had the option to volunteer their social media information on visa applications.

What this social media policy basically means is that Homeland Security will be able to look at your posts, and try and categorize your interests based on the places you’ve visited, and the things you consume online-- your likes, the groups you’re part of, etc. Roughly, this will help them ascertain whether you harbor ‘violent tendencies’, and pose a security threat. Again, this is something America has already been doing with their residents in particular, grouping interests and beliefs in specific geographic areas to see which communities are ‘dangerous’. Essentially, a monstrous marriage of data collection and redlining.

Still, checking out your likes and posts on Instagram and Facebook isn’t on Google’s level of an invasion of privacy. Even employers do this at times. Except, employers can only reject you from a job. Even if it is a job you really want, that’s nothing in comparison to being rejected from entering a country to visit family, attend a wedding, or you sister’s graduation. What makes this policy even more problematic is the inadequacy of the screeners employed. The Brennan Center for Justice reviewed the policy and found that screeners face challenges matching people to the correct profile, and often lose the nuance and the context of posts.

More than anything, however, this new policy is cementingAmerica’s shift in tone towards outsiders. Sure, the U.S. loves to surveil Americans and non-Americans alike, but in the past, they've kept a lot of their scrutiny secret to make their diverse and tolerant image believable. By openly asking for personal information, the American government is making a paranoia driven hostile statement: all non-Americans are a threat, and will be vetted at all costs to their privacy and the freedom of speech that America holds so dear. This is unfiltered Trumpism at its best-- fearful, simplistic and more trouble than it’s worth in all senses. And it lays bare what America has been and will be going forward.

Have thoughts about this new visa policy? Comment below!

If you liked this, check out:
The H-1b visa issue is revealing the scam that is the American Dream
Trump Effect: decline in new student enrolments in the U.S.
Open letter from the U.S. to Indian students: #YouBelongHere
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