The intrusive visa policies under the Trump administration are not only a violation of people's privacy but can backfire against the US in its quest to attract the world's best talent.
The Trump administration has made headlines once again with an intrusive addition to the US visa application procedure – submitting five years worth of social media history with the majority of new applications. It is estimated that this will affect approximately 15 million people annually.
The US State Department announced last week that they would be requesting the social media handles of upwards of 20 platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, as well as platforms less popular such as Weibo and Reddit.
In addition to this extensive list, applicants are expected to provide any social media handles from platforms that are not listed. In addition to this being a blatant breach of an individual's right to privacy, it also provides leeway to the visa issuing officers to use decontextualised statements as the right to reject an applicant.
In addition to the social media data, applicants are asked for all previously used telephone numbers of the last five years, all e-mail addresses used in that time, a history of international travel and residential status, and finally, the classic, whether there has been any involvement with terrorist activity amongst you, your family and friends.
With this new data, a person’s political, religious, social, cultural, and even food preferences can be spun valid grounds to reject a visa. It is also important to note that once a visa is refused, there is no appeal process. A CNN report highlights an interesting perspective on how this may affect those seeking student visas.
It reads, “The matter becomes even more complicated in the case of those applying for student visas because any post signalling their excitement at attending this or that university in a particular town or city could be misinterpreted to signify a possible intention to stay after the degree is complete.”
As is the case in most Western countries, sufficient evidence must be provided that the visa applicant will return to their home country – and there are several instances where material on social media can be used to demonstrate that an applicant does not intend on returning to their home country.
It must be pointed out that if an American had to face this process, it would be a violation of their civil rights and the First Amendment. This means despite the US’s recent history of spreading democracy and 'democratic values' by force across the Middle East, these do not apply when they wish to visit that same nation. This situation privileges the privacy of US citizens over that of a visitor or potential immigrant.
This is a clear assertion of superiority, but it is also a political tool that leverages geopolitics and weaponises the US visa and immigration system.
For example, the Chinese government have issued two warnings against travel and study in the United States citing one of the reasons as tighter visa restrictions, arbitrary rejections, and the threats of shortening the issued length of stay.
As a result, the warnings from the Chinese governments are calling on students, teachers, and professors to heighten their ‘risk assessment.’ State broadcaster CCTV reported, “The ministry wants to remind [Chinese] students and scholars to raise their risk assessment, strengthen their preventative awareness, and make the appropriate preparations.”
Chinese government reports show that there has been a 13.5 percent rejection rate of government-sponsored students seeking to study in the United States, an almost ten percent increase since last year. This is particularly problematic as Chinese students make up the largest percentage of international students studying in the United States.
These measures against Chinese students are taken as part of a larger plot to somewhat sabotage China as a result of an on-going ‘trade war’ primarily centred on the distribution of 5G internet.
The US government has also blacklisted Huwaei, in addition to implementing other restrictions against the company, making it impossible for it to do business with US firms. Not only does this ultimately delay the rolling-out of novel technology on a global scale considering Huwaei are leaders in the industry by miles, but ultimately affects the ability of other nations to conduct business with the company.
This tit-for-tat of stringent security assessments and appraisals from China and unfounded rejections from the US has a far broader fallout if other countries are any indication. For example, the UK is at risk of losing global academic relevance because of its discriminatory rejection of scholars from Asia and Africa.
A Guardian report on the increasing rejection of visiting African scholars reads, “In April, a team of six Ebola researchers from Sierra Leone were unable to attend vital training in the UK, funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of a £1.5m flagship pandemic preparedness programme. At the LSE Africa summit, 24 out of 25 researchers were missing from a single workshop. Shortly afterwards, the Save the Children centenary events were marred by multiple visa refusals of key guests.”
This undermines global efforts to tackle serious global problems. This had even caused the World Health Organization to raise its concerns on the matter when ten delegates to the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Liverpool were not allowed entry into the UK.
Martin McKee a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says of the UK government, “At the same time that it is promoting global health through its international development funding, it denies visas to those who are working on the ground to improve the health of some of the poorest people in the world as they seek to share their experiences and learn from others at conferences in the UK.”
These visa policies give extended powers to immigration authorities, which can be excused, and the policies are set out in a manner where they seem aimed to try and find reasons to justify rejections.
Not only is one subject to a violation of privacy, but ultimately, despite the whole process, it remains at the border control’s officer discretion to let you in to see your family, to access better healthcare, to a higher quality of education, and to everything else the ‘American Dream’ might have offered you.
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