America orders 'mandatory social media checks' for visa applicants

Posted March 25, 2017

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Turkey next week before attending a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in Brussels on March 31, a senior State Department official said on Friday. The memos were part of Tillerson's plan to implement Trump's revised executive order on banning Muslims, which was frozen in federal court in Hawaii hours before it was supposed to go into effect on March 16.

As The New York Times reports, the instructions set forth by the State Department generally do not pertain to "citizens of 38 countries - including most of Europe and longstanding allies like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea - who can be speedily admitted into the United States under the visa waiver program".

These diplomatic cables sent last week offer an insight into how the administration hopes to enact the travel ban if given a chance.

The security checks, however, do not apply to the 38 countries with which the USA has a visa waiver program, which allows visa applicants to go through the process more quickly. Citizens of those country are admitted into the United States under a visa waiver programme.

Another guideline from Mr. Tillerson calls for a "mandatory social media check" for all applicants who have ever set foot in territory controlled by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

"Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns", Tillerson wrote in the cable dated March 15, the Times reported.

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Tillerson's memos are already under fire from immigration groups and attorneys alike, who told Reuters that the heightened scrutiny based on region or nationality is about profiling.

Some of the language in the cables, including the line that "all visa decisions are national security decisions", is similar to statements made by USA officials in the past.

The State Department issued over 11 million immigrant and non-immigrant visas in the 2015 fiscal year.

Reuters exclusively reported on Monday that Tillerson had decided not to attend his first meeting with the ministers, originally scheduled for April 5-6 - raising fears about the new US administration's commitment to the military alliance.

Still, Tillerson argues that the new screening process is necessary for national security.

The State Department stressed upon the embassy officials to postpone or reschedule interviews if an applicant fails to provide the information asked by the interviewer. U.S. embassies have also been ordered to conduct "mandatory social media checks" for applicants who have ever been in territory controlled by the Islamic State (Isis).