Considering how the social network is intertwined with people’s lives these days, the immigration authorities in many countries are currently using it as an important tool for security check. The US Consulate, in particular, is using social media to scrutinise the lives of possible immigrants. How the social media has unveiled the public lives for the last few years has served as an alternative to the US visa council members who have decided to check the student’s social user profiles before granting them a visa.
National Security has been the top priority for the US and so, the visa council has decided to investigate a student’s activity in social sites for any dodgy activity. In this way, they will possibly be detecting unscrupulous people who are linked with the underworld or terrorism and thereby, would be able to stop them from entering their country. Keeping this in mind, the council has decided to ask for the social media IDs of every student applying for a study visa. Hence, the new US visa forms which came into limelight in March 2018 were asking for social media usernames, previous email addresses, and phone numbers which the applicants have been using for the last five years.
This new requirement, which is going to affect up to 15 million US visa applicants, has been brought in by the US Government to enable a detailed screening of the people’s activities for the last few years. In this respect, the visa applicants are required to submit their Facebook IDs and details of Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. Many of the immigrants decide to hide their social media from the council and in doing so they are likely to invite serious trouble.
This idea was proposed in March 2018 and was accepted as the mechanism for screening and selecting legitimate travellers. This was initially anticipated for the visa applicants coming from sensitive areas which are labelled for a high degree of terrorist activities. The council has witnessed a surge of such applications from these areas accounting to about 65,000 applicants per year. As it is difficult to filter the applicants and decide if one may not have a terrorist link given that such devastation have already taken place in the US,the authorities are asking for the social media IDs which these applicants have maintained for the last five years. Additionally, this detail would also help the visa investigators to find if the families of these applicants are connected to any terrorist activities.It has been estimated that this new policy would affect 710,000 immigrant visa applicants and 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants.
This scrutiny of social media activity of student visa applicants has provoked a lot of criticism as ‘The Economist’ has called it ‘an obstruction to immigration’ which could otherwise contribute to the growth of the country. The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that the US can no more be ranked as the top-ranked destination because this vetting policy of the government has interfered in the private lives of people and therefore,professionals or entrepreneurs are heading towards countries such as Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.
On the other hand, this may be a possible answer to put an end to the terrorist activities which have ransacked the country many times in the past. One of the gloomiest days in the history of mankind takes us back to the crumbling of the Twin Towers by the hijacked commercial jets. Since then, the US consulate has laid down stricter visa rules for many developing countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, to name a few. Though there has been varied opinion in this regard, the US immigration board is very stern about this decision.
The US Embassy needs to know if the applicants are involved in any kind of criminal activities. This also increases your chances of getting the visa because most people will not be able to clear this screening in case they are linked with any unscrupulous activities. Hence, if you have patent records, you would probably clear this screening test. Be very careful about your social media group and social media friends which may impact the US Visa council in a positive/negative way.
Since social media users tag themselves and their friends, it is easier to find out if the applicants have been associated with people who are involved with terrorism. Hence, your clean records will be an added advantage here.
The social media screening happens faster than any other method. It may seem informal but it would really give great access to people’s personal lives. The time taken is much lesser compared to the cases when the visa council has to wait for a reply from the government bodies of the country from which the applicants have applied for their visas. This will, therefore, expedite your screening process and help you get an early verdict.
If not selected, elimination becomes easier and helps the visa council to remove those applicants who can be a threat to the national security of the US. On the brighter side, it also makes you, a harmless student immigrant, to stay safe in this country during your study period, thus guaranteeing a safe environment.
Though social media screening can be beneficial to the US visa council, it can dilute your chances of flying abroad had you not used social media wisely. In this regard, Indian students should be very careful while participating in social media and leaving comments on different social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Their participation and comments may be misconstrued and misinterpreted by the council authorities which can pose a threat to the visa selection.
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