It Would force Disclosure of Social Media Activity and Other Info, affecting Some 14 Million Visitors—US Travel Tells RTO Summit East Delegates The More People Comment .. the Better
Patricia Rojas-Unger, vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association, addressing delegates at NAJ’s RTO Summit East last week in New York City, that a controversial U.S. State Department proposal which would ask visa applicants to provide details on the social media accounts (mostly Facebook and Twitter) they have used in the past five years, as well as telephone numbers, email addresses, and international travel during the same period, could be devastating to inbound travel.
The proposed State Department regulation would not affect the 38 countries that are a part of the Visa Waiver Program but would impact such key overseas source markets such as China, India and Brazil, as well as all of South America except for Chile.
Those affected by the proposed regulation—some 14 million people a year—would have to disclose all social media identities used in the past five years. The information would be used to identify and vet those seeking both immigrant and non-immigrant visas.
A summary of her presentation:
Where did this come from? The proposal has its roots in a directive issued on March 15, 2017 by then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson directing all consular chiefs to determine which populations of visa applicants should be subject to additional “extreme vetting” measures. It followed a March 6, 2017 “Travel Ban” Executive Order by President Donald Trump.
How will it Increase National Security? “We haven’t really heard from the State Department what this will do help increase national security,” said Rojas-Unger, who then went on to compare what the measure proposes vs. what steps already in place. She showed the following two charts.
It Could Feed the Rumor Mill: Some delegates brought up the point that, once you start vetting people from certain countries, the rumor will spread to Europe that the U.S. is an unwelcoming country and travelers may not want to visit because of this; also false rumors may spread and Visa Waiver countries may think the extreme vetting rules apply to all countries.
Proposed Visa Vetting Rules
The U.S. State Department is proposing to add the following requirements to the Nonimmigrant Visa Application Impacting 14 million travelers:
—Social media platform identifiers for the last five years;
—Telephone numbers used over the last 5 years;
—Email addresses used over the last 5 years;
—Addresses used over the last 5 years;
—International travel history over the last 5 years.
—Has the applicant been deported or removed from any country?
—Has your spouse, son or daughter been involved in terrorist activities?
Current Vetting Guidelines
Visa applicants “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national-security related visa ineligibilities” are already subject to the following:
—Travel history during the last 15 years, including source of funding for travel;
—Address history during the last 15 years;
—Employment history during the last 15 years;
—All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;
—Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
—Names and dates of birth for all children;
—Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
—Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last 5 years; and
—Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last 5 years.
What has US Travel Been Doing? US Travel and its partners have been going through normal channels of communication as it tries to persuade the State Department to roll back the reach of some of its provisions. The association is also working to develop an estimate of the economic impact to the proposed new regulation. “We can be successful if we can articulate the economic cost” of the proposal, said Rojas-Unger, noting that the organization is doing a survey of international travelers to gauge the economic impact of the measure.
What Can We do?
But, she noted, in the interim, nothing will help make the case for withdrawing the proposed regulation like comments from those who would likely be impacted by it. And since this is not a legislative proposal acted on by Congress, the old adage, “Call your Member of Congress and let him or her know how you stand,” does not apply. One has to go to the website page dedicated to the regulation and make a comment.
Tour and travel industry professionals are urged to go to https://www.regulations.gov/. This will bring you to this page:
Once you have arrived at the above, enter into the search box “DOS-2018-0002” This should take you to the following:
Once you have reached the above, click on “Comment Now!” button at the lower right, and leave your comment. Rojas-Unger stressed that, when tour and travel industry professionals post their remarks, the most powerful comments are those from industry members that stress the economic impact of the proposal–enumerating how it will negatively affect their business in a way that may cause them to reduce staff.