State Department Proposes Stricter Visa Screening for Visitors to U.S.

Proposed new rules for screening of visa applicants would intensify scrutiny of their social media histories and other personal details. The Visit U.S. Coalition is concerned that heavier vetting could exacerbate a decline in international travel to the U.S.

The Trump administration last week announced plans to heighten its scrutiny of U.S. visa applicants’ social media histories, a move that would affect nearly 15 million people a year.

The proposed new rules from the State Department would require visa applicants to disclose details about their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts, as well as provide telephone numbers, email addresses, and travel history for the past five years. They would also have to state whether they have ever been deported from a country and whether they have relatives who have been involved in terrorist activity.

The proposed rules would not affect citizens from countries to which the U.S. grants visa-free travel status, including most of Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan. However, citizens from countries like India and China could be subject to “extreme vetting” if they are planning to travel to the U.S.

According to a Federal Register notice, the State Department is accepting public comments on the proposed rules until May 29.

ASAE is working with the Visit U.S. Coalition to comment before the rules are finalized, anticipating that the stricter vetting would likely have a negative impact on international travel to the U.S. The coalition was formed earlier this year to advance policy recommendations aimed at reversing the decline in inbound travel to the U.S.

When it launched in January, the coalition shared U.S. Travel Association research showing that while global travel increased 7.9 percent from 2015 to 2017, the U.S. market share fell from 13.6 percent to 11.9 percent over the same period. That decline in international travel resulted in a loss of $32.2 billion in visitor spending and 100,000 hospitality jobs, the coalition says.

Along with U.S. Travel and ASAE, other founding members of the Visit U.S. Coalition include the American Gaming Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, Society of Independent Show Organizers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Vetting of visa applicants’ social media history was first discussed by the Trump administration last May, though at that time the State Department was considering requiring visa applicants to provide 15 years of biographical information and social media usage.

ASAE has continued to stress the need to strike a balance between ensuring national security and facilitating legitimate travel to the U.S.

“Like the other coalition members, ASAE is concerned about the decline in international travel to the United States,” said ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE. “It’s in our common interest to work with our association partners and policymakers to reverse this downward trajectory. We understand and support the need for security, but we also need to better communicate that America is a welcoming destination for international visitors.”

(alexskopje/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Chris Vest, CAE

By Chris Vest, CAE

Chris Vest, CAE is vice president, corporate communications and public relations at ASAE. MORE

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