Association Agenda: “Extreme Vetting” Could Lead to Fewer Visitors
New visa policy may discourage international meeting attendees.
The marketing pitch to bring international attendees to U.S. meetings and conferences has gotten a little tougher.
After floating the possibility of “extreme vetting” of foreign visitors in 2017, the State Department implemented a new policy last spring that requires nearly all applicants for U.S. visas to submit information about all social media accounts they have used in the past five years.
The policy change gives the government access to photos, posts, and other personal data commonly shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. It is expected to affect about 15 million people from other countries who apply for visas to enter the U.S. each year.
The social media screening adds a new layer to an already extensive process for obtaining a U.S. visa. Individuals from countries not included in the Visa Waiver Program must complete an online application for a visa, and the information they provide is checked against terrorism watch lists and databases. They then appear for an in-person interview with a State Department consular officer who is trained to look for red flags in their application.
Applicants must answer a series of biographic questions and show proof that a return ticket has been purchased and that they have a place to stay in the U.S. Their photos and fingerprints are taken. All of this information is subject to analysis by State Department officials and cross-checked by Customs and Border Protection when the visitor arrives at a U.S. airport.
While no one argues the State Department’s role in prioritizing national security, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the government’s surveillance of social media accounts will cause international travel to the U.S. to dip even further than it has over the past several years. Will people considering whether to attend a conference in the U.S. decide that this additional security requirement is more intrusion than they are willing to tolerate?