State Department

Trump administration to start social media vetting for visa applicants

Brooke Singman

The Trump administration has approved a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants that asks for social media handles and accounts used during the last five years and travel history, including the source of funding for trips, over the last 15 years, for more “rigorous” vetting.

The State Department requested expedited consideration and “emergency review” from the Office of Management and Budget on May 5 for the new visa application protocol. Fox News can confirm that OMB has approved the new measures.

The State Department proposed new measures for U.S. visa applicants worldwide in order to “more rigorously” evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.

“Collecting additional information from visa applicants whose circumstances suggest a need for further scrutiny will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” a State Department official told Fox News. “We estimate these changes would affect only a fraction of one percent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide.”

In addition to social media accounts requested from flagged applicants, the State Department will continue to request phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years, address and employment history during the last 15 years, and names and dates of birth for all children, current and former spouses or partners, and siblings, along with all former and current passport numbers and country of issuance.

The Department of Homeland Security told Fox News that the questionnaire would help to provide the “best information possible.”

“We’re continuing to seek better information sharing and better processes with all countries to get a better sense on who these people are who would enter the country,” a DHS official told Fox News. “We’re trying to have the best information possible from countries to identify the client and understand the background of people who want to do us harm.”

The State Department said that the social media additions to the questionnaire were in accordance with President Trump’s March 6 Memorandum on enhancing the screening and vetting of applicants for visas.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, acknowledged the danger of social media platforms in a counterterrorism strategy report released by the committee last fall.  

“Social media sites and applications have been propaganda multipliers, allowing them to connect with potential followers across countries, cultures and languages,” McCaul wrote.  

Social media giants, like Facebook and Twitter, have shut down hundreds of thousands of accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist attacks and activity since mid-2015.

“National security is our top priority with adjudicating visa applications. Every prospective traveler to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” a State Department official said. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to support legitimate travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S. citizens.”

Fox News’ Rich Edson and Nick Kalman contributed to this report. 

Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.

Jake Gibson is a producer working at the Fox News Washington bureau who covers politics, law enforcement and intelligence issues.