Social Media Question on Visa Application: Yet Another Obstacle on the Path to Study in the USA


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Image courtesy of BBC

Yes, the nightmare proposal related to US-bound international student recruitment has become a cold, stark reality.  Check out this 3 June 2019 update from NAFSA:  Association of International Educators or this 1 June 2019 BBC report about the collection of social media information.

The “social media” question has been added to the DS-160 form, the online application used by individuals to apply for a nonimmigrant visa, including the F-1.  Applicants use a drop-down list to indicate the social media platforms they’ve used during the five years preceding their visa application, and to provide any IDs or handles they used on those platforms.  (Internal censorship, anyone?)  

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Copyright:© Bawnation

What are the criteria, I wonder?  I can guess and my guesses are probably not far off the mark, sadly.  If the applicant is a card-carrying member of a terrorist organization, s/he probably wouldn’t advertise that fact on social media channels.  Memo to the US government powers that be:  Have you heard of the “dark web” and/or encrypted communication?  Yes, some apps are good, so good, in fact, that the National Security Agency aka NSA and other intelligence agencies cannot hack them, or so I’m told by reliable IT sources. 

FB_IMG_1560995888117If a visa applicant wrote somewhere that Donald Trump is an Orange POS, does that disqualify her/him from obtaining a F-1 or other nonimmigrant visa?  What about students who are critical of US domestic and/or foreign policy?  Same end result?  What about those who don’t believe that God wanted Trump to be president?  Ditto?  What if I posted the meme to the left on one or more of my social media accounts?  That’s a rather vast expanse of gray, my friends.   

Here’s another educated guess:  If I didn’t hold a US passport, I probably wouldn’t receive a nonimmigrant visa, if the busy little bureaucratic beavers took a gander at some of the gems I’ve posted on what few social media channels I use, not to mention blog posts, articles, and book chapters that I’ve written, even those that have been mildly censored.  That’s what the USA has come to these days.  The land of the free and the home of the brave, indeed.  

Here’s a question for you, dear reader, that is not academic.  Does the US government really have the technical capability to sort through and filter ALL of this information in multiple languages in a reasonably short period of time?  Based on past performance, I have my doubts.  (Think 9/11, for example, or the collapse of the Soviet Union, for that matter.)  What about many of the Tweets from the Tweeter-in-Chief himself?  If Donald Trump didn’t carry a US passport, would he survive the screening?  

Perhaps more bureaucratic bark than bite?  Time will tell.  At any rate, one more hoop to jump through for millions of nonimmigrant visa applicants, including students, more wasted time in a life that is already fleeting, and one more reason for some international students to consider studying elsewhere.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Bonus:  The following was posted in one of the Facebook groups for college counselors of which I’m a member:  

If you work with international students, be prepared for this.  The State Department updated both the DS-160 (non-immigrant visa application) and the DS-260 (immigrant visa application) in the last week to ask all visa applicants to provide their social media names/handles for the last 5 years.  
 
This means that even STUDENTS applying to come to the US to study will be asked to provide information for the following platforms:

Ask.FM
Douban
Facebook
Flickr
Google+
Instagram
LinkedIn
Myspace
Pinterest
QZone(QQ)
REDDIT
SINA WEIBO
TENCENT WEIBO
TUMBLR
TWITTER
TWOO
VINE
VKONTAKTE(VK)
YOUKU
YOUTUBE

That is the actual list from the application. Yes, the government requires Vine info (which doesn’t exist anymore) but not Snapchat (which is where all the kids are), but welcome to the era of “extreme vetting”.
 
I shudder to think what impact this is going to have on students trying to come here to study.