People wait to enter the visa section of the United States consulate building in Istanbul in 2015.

People wait to enter the visa section of the United States consulate building in Istanbul in 2015. Emrah Gurel/AP file photo

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The U.S. Just Found a New Way to Delay Visa Applications

Previous social-media vetting targeted a sliver of travelers to the U.S.—about 65,000. The new measures would cover nearly 15 million people.

Would-be-travelers to the U.S. beware: The line for a U.S. visa could soon be getting a lot longer.

The State Department on Friday proposed to include extra questions about social-media use in visa applications. It wants applicants for immigrant and non-immigrant visas to submit their social-media handles from the previous five years, according to notices filed by the agency in Federal Register.

The changes, which have to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget after a 60-day public comment period, are part of the Trump administration’s mounting scrutiny on immigrants. Since he took office, U.S. agencies have been rolling out a series of bureaucratic measures that have slowed down legal immigration. They include his travel ban, which blocks citizens from certain majority-Muslim countries, and a flurry of extra demands for information from skilled workers applying for H-1B visas.

“This is an indirect way that the Trump administration is trying to limit immigration to the U.S. that does not require for them to go to Congress,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, of the proposed rules.

The U.S. had already been requesting social-media information from people suspected to represent a national security threat. That policy targeted a sliver of travelers to the U.S.—about 65,000. The new measures would cover nearly 15 million people.

Along with the handles, the State Department is also asking for a five-year history of email addresses, telephone numbers, and international trips.

The extra information has the potential of significantly increasing the workload of consular officers, says Yale-Loehr, and reducing the number of visas the U.S. issues. The rules could also have economic consequences. People going to the U.S. on vacation might ditch their plans rather than divulging five-years’ worth of personal details.

Some groups criticized the proposed policy on grounds that it will censor immigrants’ communications amongst themselves and with US citizen relatives. “People will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security project, in a statement.

Marisa Cianciarulo, a law professor at Chapman University, said anyone active on social media should assume that their posts could be inspected at some point. But she questioned the effectiveness of the questions in screening dangerous visitors. “What trained terrorist, intent on getting into the country to do harm, would honestly answer those questions?” she added.