Chinese visa agents are warning clients planning to visit the United States to be wary about their online presence, with US visa applicants now reportedly required to give information about their social media accounts.
According to US media reports, on online visa application pages, applicants now have to list all social media platforms and usernames that they used within the last five years.
Options in the drop-down menu include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Chinese social media platforms such as QQ, Douban, Weibo, and Youku.
Applicants also have the option of saying they have no social media accounts.
However, a US Department of State official warned that lying about social media use would have “serious immigration consequences” for applicants, online US news site Hill.TV reported.
In a notice on its website, Guangzhou-based Ztop Education warned its Chinese clients to avoid posting sensitive terms such as “maternity hotel”, “give birth to babies in the US”, “guns”, “green card”, immigrant”, “buy property in the US”, on their social media platforms.
Before Friday, only a small number of visa applicants who had been flagged for further review had been required to provide social media information.
Now, the requirement has been extended to almost all applicants for immigrant and non-immigrant visas.
One commenter on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, said: “Now, both the Chinese and the US governments want to look at my social media posts.”
Last year, the US federal government proposed collecting social media identities from all applicants to “vet and identify them”, a move to support US president Donald Trump’s measures to prevent terrorism.
The requirement comes as China and the US are embroiled in a tit-for-tat trade and technology war.
Washington has introduced new limits on how long some Chinese students can stay in the US, with the State Department telling US embassies and consulates that Chinese postgraduate students studying robotics, aviation and hi-tech manufacturing, could be limited from previously maximum five-year to one-year visas. The changes will take effect on June 11.
Plus Consulting, a Shenzhen-based agency targeting Chinese students wanting to study in the US, also warned its clients on its website on Saturday that the US was becoming stricter about visa applications.
According to the agency, applicants reported being asked during visa interviews about their views on the US-China trade war.
The agency suggested that an appropriate response would be “the US and China are bound together by economic interdependence”, and “the tension between the two countries is just temporary, which will be solved through bilateral dialogue”.
Students in science and technology interviewed earlier this month said it now took them between eight to 10 weeks to get US visas, while the previous wait time was usually from three to six weeks.
Meanwhile, American academics warned in April that a visa war targeting scholars from China and the US would only hurt both sides, fuel mutual suspicion and damage academic channels of communication.
The assessment came after several prominent Chinese academics said they had been questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on suspicion of spying and have had their 10-year, multi-entry US visas revoked. – South China Morning Post