Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the United States of America has introduced a number of travel restrictions and issued guidelines to its own citizens returning home from abroad. The novel coronavirus, named COVID-19, originated in the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province and has quickly spread to many countries around the world. The
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Social media information is now a mandatory requirement for ESTA and visa applications for the USA. This latest change in visa policy is part of US President Donald Trump’s plan to set a “uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures”.
In the past, only travelers who were deemed to need additional screening, such as those coming from regions controlled by terrorist groups, would need to provide social media information.
According to the latest global visa information, it is now the case for all applicants for both US visas and the ESTA visa waiver.
Authorization to travel to the United States of America is possible to obtain via the internet by completing an online application form. Travelers from countries that are part of the visa waiver program do not require a US visa, but must register their details online with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
Completing the ESTA form involves submitting basic personal data, such as the applicant’s name and date of birth, passport details, and contact information.
Until recently, travelers had the option of including details of their social media presence, such as their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles. Now, this information is compulsory.
The data submitted on the ESTA registration is used to pre-screen travelers before they arrive in the USA. This is done to improve security for both US citizens and other travelers arriving in the country.
The names and details of applicants are checked against American and international databases and watchlists to identify and prevent the entry of individuals who represent a security risk. The aim of the system is to combat international crime and prevent terrorism and illegal immigration.
It also creates a huge benefit to travelers of making a streamlined system that speeds up and facilitates the process of obtaining travel authorization and passing through border control without any unnecessary checks and bureaucracy.
The requirement to submit social media details to apply for ESTA mirrors the decision to make this information obligatory on US visa applications.
Should I Put Social Media on ESTA?
It is now mandatory to include social media details when completing the ESTA registration form.
All applicants for the US ESTA from eligible countries must now include the social media IDs of any and all of the following that they have used over the past 5 years:
If the traveler has not used any social media accounts within the 5 years prior to completing the application, they may select the box marked “I do not have an online presence”.
Applicants are advised to answer truthfully, as their details will be screened by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staff and individuals who provide false information may be denied entry to the USA.
With regards to the social media requirement on US visa applications, an official from the Trump administration announced that international travelers who lie about social media on their visa application could face “serious immigration consequences”.
It is recommended that all applicants for a US visa or ESTA fill out their form accurately and double-check their answers before submitting the form to ensure that all details are correct.
How Will CBP Use My Social Media Account Information?
US Customs and Border Protection are asking for social media information from ESTA and US visa applicants as part of their efforts do protect the United States by identifying potential risks to national security.
Social media accounts may be screened for posts that were geo-stamped from regions of the world where there is conflict and activities that indicate sympathies towards extremist causes or beliefs.
They may also be used to cross-reference the other information provided in the ESTA application.
The social media details provided in the ESTA application form is unlikely to affect the traveler’s chances of having their entry to the United States approved—if anything, it is likely to facilitate the screening process and allow the CBP to grant them the ESTA faster.
The ESTA application may be affected by social media only if the individual’s activity has raised concern about a security risk.
What Social Media Information Will CBP Be Able to See?
The information available depends largely on the individual’s account settings.
If the privacy settings on Facebook or Instagram do not allow for public viewing, then it is unlikely that screening staff from US Customs and Border Protection will be able to view your posts or information, unless they send a formal release of information request to the company running the social media site in question.
Accounts that are set to public viewing will be accessible to view the profile and screen the traveler.
Overall, the requirement to include social media details is simply an additional requirement on the ESTA application and should not be any cause for concern for the vast majority of visitors to the US.
International travelers who are not sure if they need to apply for a visa for the or register with ESTA can check their visa requirements for America using the visa checker at the top of this page.
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