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New US visa rules to vet artists’ socials

Could a controversial new requirement to hand over social media handles to US immigration lead to difficulties for performers? Visa experts weigh in…

By Jon Chapple on 04 Jun 2019

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo


image © Gage Skidmore

In a further obstacle for foreign artists braving an already “complex and unreliable” application process, the American state department has declared that it now requires “social media identifiers” to be included in nearly all applications for US visas.

In what the Associated Press calls a “vast expansion of the Trump administration’s enhanced screening of potential immigrants and visitors”, virtually all applicants for a United States visa – only certain diplomatic and official visa types are excluded – will need to provide their usernames for most social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Flickr, as well as all previous email addresses, used in the previous five years.

The changes are expected to affect around 14 million non-immigrant visa applications, including thousands by musicians, entertainers and performers. While the state department claims the new rules will help keep Americans safe while still allowing “legitimate travel” to the US, civil liberties groups have warned the move could lead to individuals hostile to the current administration being barred from entering the country.

Andy Corrigan of UK-based entertainment visa specialist Viva La Visa, whose clients include Ed Sheeran, Elton John and Mumford and Sons, says the new questions on the non-immigrant visa application form, known as DS-160, “could have an impact on applicants” from the entertainment business, noting that “there have been cases where people have been refused entry to the US because of what they have said in the media”. (In US immigration law, a conviction is not needed to prove a criminal act took place.)

“For instance,” he explains, “possession or use of controlled substances usually makes one ineligible to receive a US visa. There is no requirement for a conviction – an admission of committing the act is sufficient.

“Celebrity cook Nigella Lawson was denied boarding of a flight to the US because of her in-court admission of drug use; she was not charged. We understand she was later issued with a visa.”

Sophie Kirov of Australian touring consultancy Badlands Group says while “applicants should not be overtly concerned that their visa will be denied”, it’s important the information provided on the DS-160 is consistent with posts on social media platforms (ie no telling US authorities you’re a clean-living non-terrorist while posting about your chronic cocaine use and jihadist tendencies online).

“There have been cases where applicants have been denied because of what they have said in the media”

“Misrepresentation can make you inadmissible for entry to the US,” confirms Corrigan. “If they ask if you’ve ever contravened a law regarding a controlled substance, and you lie – that misrepresentation is generally regarded as seriously as the original offence.”

Corrigan says Viva La Visa has, “as yet, had no cases relating to the new questions, but they only came in yesterday.”

Despite the seemingly drastic changes, he explains the state department has not actually made “a huge change in policy”.

“It’s happening already,” he says. “We know they’ve been googling people – we’ve had artists who have gone in for their interview at the embassy and they’ve looked them up online there and then,” he adds. “So this is largely a logical extension of that existing policy.”

Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which opposes the new rules, says the requirement to hand over social media details is “dangerous and problematic”, and “does nothing to protect security concerns but raises significant privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for citizens and immigrants”.

She tells the New York Times: “Research shows that this kind of monitoring has chilling effects, meaning that people are less likely to speak freely and connect with each other in online communities that are now essential to modern life.”

The state department, meanwhile, says it is “constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect US citizens while supporting legitimate travel to the United States”.

 


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