TAIPEI (CNA) – A recently-implemented rule that requires applicants for U.S. visas to submit their social media usernames, previous email addresses, and phone numbers, will not affect most Taiwanese travelers to the U.S. who visit the country visa-free, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said on June 2.
The AIT statement came after an Associated Press report on Saturday that the U.S. State Department is now requiring nearly all visa applicants to submit more detailed personal information as part of the Trump administration’s enhanced screening of potential immigrants and visitors.
The change, which was first proposed in March 2018, is expected to affect about 15 million foreign nationals who apply for visas to enter the United States each year, the AP report said.
Asked to comment, an AIT spokesperson cited information previously released by the State Department as saying that the changes have been made for national security reasons.
“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening,” the spokesperson told CNA in an email.
Under the plan, which officially went into effect on May 30, all U.S. visa applicants will be asked to provide additional information, including their social media identifiers, prior passport numbers, information about family members, and a longer history of past travel, employment, and contact information that is collected in current visa application forms.
“Maintaining robust screening standards for visa applicants is a dynamic practice that must adapt to emerging threats,” the AIT spokesperson said, adding that collecting this additional information from visa applicants “will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”
The change affects visa-applicants using its nonimmigrant online application form (DS-160); the paper back-up version of the nonimmigrant visa application (DS-156); and the online immigrant visa application form (DS-260), it added.
Taiwan was admitted to the U.S. Visa-Waiver Program (VWP) in November 2012. Since then, eligible Republic of China (Taiwan) passport holders have been able to travel to the U.S. for stays of 90 days or less without the need for a visa.
However, in order to travel under the VWP, travelers must first receive travel authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and meet all eligibility requirements in advance of travel.
The AIT spokesperson said the change has no impact on the ESTA process. According to U.S. statistics, the number of Taiwanese traveling to the U.S. rose 60 percent in the first five years of the program to about 475,000 travelers in 2017.
The U.S. is now the top long-haul destination for outbound Taiwanese travelers. ●
By Joseph Yeh