Trump administration begins vetting social media profiles for visa applicants

The State Department estimated that this would affect 65,000 applicants a year.

ByABC News
June 5, 2017, 6:12 PM

— -- The Trump administration has implemented a new rule that allows officials to demand five years' worth of social media profiles and 15 years of biographical information as part of a visa application.

The rule, which ABC News previously reported the State Department was considering, took effect May 25 even as the president’s so-called travel ban remains tied up in the courts -- part of Trump’s push for “extreme vetting.”

Consular officers processing visa applicants at embassies around the world can now ask applicants for social media profiles from the last five years, prior passport numbers, greater detail about family members, and longer personal history, including travel, employment and residence for the last 15 years, instead of the last five that applicants were previously asked for.

The rule applies to “immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities,” according to the State Department. The department estimated that this would affect 65,000 applicants a year, or 0.5 percent of all applicants -- “only a fraction of 1 percent of the more than 13 million annual visa applicants worldwide,” according to a statement.

Asked if there were other changes in the works, a State Department official told ABC News, “What we would emphasize is that this is a dynamic threat, we have to keep changing to keep up with it, and we’re constantly looking for ways to do that.”

Failure to provide all this new information will not necessarily result in visa denial, according to the State Department, and social media profiles "will not be used to deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation," it said.

It will be up to the individual consular officer screening the applicant to determine if he or she requires the additional questions.

President Donald Trump campaigned first on a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” before pivoting to a platform of “extreme vetting” that offered few details.

Once in office, he tried to turn that rhetoric into policy with an executive order signed one week into his presidency that banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. When that ban was challenged in court and tied up, the administration issued a revised version, which also remains challenged.

Trump went on two Twitter tirades over the weekend in support of that second executive order.

“We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” he wrote Saturday night following a terror attack in London, adding on Sunday, “We are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!”

Beyond this new State Department rule, it is unclear what else is being done as part of that “extreme vetting.” The Department of Homeland Security says that it has reviewed and updated its own vetting and screening procedures for all travelers to the U.S., but no changes have been made public.

None of the changes, even the undisclosed DHS ones, specifically target the countries the Trump administration said proposed a particular threat and banned travel from, according to officials.

ABC News’ Geneva Sands and Luc Bruggeman contributed to this report.