When former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed “extreme vetting” in March 2017, it included collecting 5 years of phone numbers, email addresses, social media platforms and usernames, but back then it was intended only for 0.5% of visa applicants, or about 65,000 people annually. As of June 1, 2019, this is the new reality for all visa applicants. Now, the Department of State will hoover up the social media handles of about 15 million foreign nationals annually, by means of the revised Form DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application, already in effect. Everyone seeking a visa to come to the U.S. has to wonder if their past postings or chats on social media will be reviewed by and offend some U.S. government official, resulting in a visa denial, or worse, if some dormant social media account they forgot and thus failed to mention might be deemed a misrepresentation, barring the door to the U.S. They have to wonder exactly how much combing through email and phone communications the U.S. government is already engaged in.
Owing to our increasingly unfriendly policies, the U.S. has slid way down in the rankings of desirable destination countries for high-skilled foreign talent. The OECD actually measures this, in its Indicators of Talent Attractiveness which tabulates countries’ relative strengths and weaknesses in their capacity to attract and retain three categories of foreigners who drive economic growth – highly educated workers, entrepreneurs, and university students. On this scale, the United States currently ranks 7th, behind Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland.
Of course, the sweep of this dragnet is open-ended and ambiguous. Sure, the form DS-160 now includes a pulldown menu listing 20 social media platforms, but will users be penalized for marking “None” if the platforms they have used aren’t on that list, or for not knowing that because government is slow, they should mark “Yes” for TenCent Weibo if they used WeChat? Will the U.S. share applicants’ social media profiles with other governments, including repressive autocracies like China and Saudi Arabia? Here is the list, in its current iteration.
GOOGLE+ (officially defunct as of April 2, 2019)