A Test of America's Charm

By now, most of the world should have heard about the new U.S. visa requirements proposed by the Trump Administration.  The requirements will not be imposed for another 60 days. However, intending immigrants and foreign visitors and business travelers must already be pondering over whether a visa to enter America - a land of freedom and democracy - is worth sacrificing their privacy. 

New Visa Requirements
Technically, no new visa requirements have been proposed. Rather, only the visa applications will be revised to solicit additional information from applicants including 1) 5 years of social media information (i.e., account login info); 2) all phone numbers and email addresses used within the last 5 years; 3) 5 years of international travel history; 4) any history of deportation from any country; and 5) whether any family member has been involved in terrorist activities.  
Who Will be Required to Provide Additional Info
Applicants for both immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas will be required to provide the additional information, or their visa applications will not be processed.  Visitors who request to enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) will not be affected as they do not normally have to complete a visa application form. Approximately 38 countries (mostly European countries plus Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Chile) are eligible for the VWP.  Canadians are also visa exempt for short stays of up to 6 months.  However, presumably citizens from these countries who are applying for regular non-immigrant visas and immigrant visas must still complete the new visa application forms. Individuals who have diplomatic and official visas will also be exempt.  
Impact to Visa Applicants Will be Substantial
Most intending immigrants would probably have no choice but comply with the new requirements.  Business travelers on official assignments would also have no choice but comply.  However, other casual travelers may not be willing or able to fork up the additional information requested. 
In this day and age, most people have multiple social media accounts, and several phone numbers, numerous email addresses.  And international travel has also been very common.  Privacy is certainly a major concern. Who would want to share their personal information, private conversations, photos, etc., to complete strangers and bureaucrats? Even if one is willing to give up her privacy, it would still be a great deal of inconvenience to collect five years' worth of accounts, phone numbers, email addresses and travel history.  The truth is that most people would not be able to provide the additional information easily as they just don't keep a record of all the social media accounts or email addresses used. 
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Economic and Administrative Costs to the U.S. 
Recent reports show that the number of foreign students has already been on the decline on account of the stricter U.S. immigration policies.  It is understandable why some parents may decide to send their kids to study in other countries when slammed with these additional requirements.  Likewise, some investors may also decide to invest their capital elsewhere to avoid the hassle, not to mention the casual tourists who can easily pick another country for their family vacation. Think tourists from China, India, Mexico and Brazil.  Hence, the economic loss to the U.S. will likely to be substantial.  
Administratively, it would also be difficult to seriously implement the new policy.  Are the State Department visa officers going to investigate every email ever sent and phone call ever made? Are they going to login and investigate every social media account listed in each visa application? A lot of them will be in other languages.  How should they interpret the private conversation in social media between family members or close friends?  How would they know if they are jokes or not?

All this means that delays in visa processing times are very likely.  The bottom line to many visitors is this: Do I want to give up my personal info and privacy, and deal with a lot of inconveniences and delays in order to get a U.S. visa?  Although extreme vetting is done in the name of national security, ultimately it is also a test of America's charm in the world.


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