US visa. For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Agency

Abu Dhabi: Visa applicants to the US will now be required to reveal their social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as part of new security checks introduced by the US Department of State.

The US embassy in Abu Dhabi on Sunday confirmed to Gulf News the new requirements for immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications, passing on a statement from the US Department of State with details on the new process.

“This update — which we initially announced last year in the Federal Register — is a result of the President’s March 6, 2017, Memorandum on Implementing Heightened Screening and Vetting of Applications for Visas and other Immigration Benefits and Section 5 of Executive Order 13780 regarding implementing uniform screening and vetting standards for visa applications,” the statement read.

“We already request certain contact information, travel history, family member information and previous addresses from all visa applicants. Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity,” the statement added.

“A social media “handle” or “identifier” is any name used by the individual on social media platforms including, but not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The visa application form will list the specific social media platforms for which identifiers are being requested,” the statement explained.

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Individuals who have never used social media will be exempt from the requirements according to the Department of State.

Privacy concerns

Residents Gulf News spoke to voiced privacy concerns over the new measures and also questioned whether one’s social media presence was a valid checklist for visa screenings.

“I think it’s a huge violation if you link someone’s visa to their social media accounts, social media is our private life, and even for the people who make their social media public, it shouldn’t be taken to the extent of having it linked with a visa approval,” said Khalil, a Lebanese resident.

“When it comes to security checks, I believe there are much more important things to check for other than someone’s social media account; social media for me is a not a legitimate criteria for visa approvals,” he added.

B.K, an Indian resident, said she understood the thinking behind the additional security checks, but said that privacy was still an issue.

“I understand the need for always having a stringent visa policy which is a good thing, but social media is a very personal thing and once someone else has access to it — someone whom you haven’t shared it with — it no longer becomes that personal sphere for you anymore.

“I think this will make people become more conscious of what they post because they know it will be under further scrutiny now,” she added.

Jameel from Jordan said people would find ways around the new measure by saying they don’t have a social media account.

“People can avoid this by just saying they don’t have a social media account, if someone for example isn’t transparent with their social media accounts by not putting their real name, photos and so on, it makes it harder to identify who that person really is and they can just say they don’t use social media.

“Social media users might also try to circumvent this measure by cleaning up their social media accounts beforehand because they know it’s going to be looked at, and so I don’t think this is the most efficient tactic to use if it is being done for security checks. Now that people know about this they will be paying more attention on what to post, and that defeats the whole purpose of screening checks,” he added.