The first bill introduced by freshman Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, would require the Department of Homeland Security to review the social media activity of foreign citizens seeking visas to enter the United States.
Banks announced Thursday he is introducing the Visa Investigation and Social Media Act of 2017, or VISA Act, an attempt to strengthen the vetting process for immigration and travel visa applicants.
Homeland Security officials would be required to review all "publicly available social media activity" by visa applicants, such as Twitter messages, Facebook posts and photos, and YouTube videos, Banks said in a statement.
"We must have confidence that those entering our country do not intend us harm," Banks said. "Directing Homeland Security to review visa applicants’ social media before granting them access to our country is common sense. Employers vet job candidates this way, and I think it’s time we do the same for visa applicants."
Other provisions of his bill would require Homeland Security to interview every visa applicant 11 years old or older, conduct a fraud-prevention check of each applicant’s documentation and require that applicants provide an English translation of their documents.
Banks’ office said the VISA Act would not affect the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of 38 nations to travel to the United States for business or tourism and stay as long as 90 days without a visa. Most of those nations are in Europe.
Jerri Mead, a Fort Wayne attorney who practices immigration and naturalization law, said in an email that Banks’ bill "appears to be an expansion of procedures already in place." Mead said the legislation would seem to extend current procedures for immigration visas to include non-immigration visas, which are used by tourists, students, temporary workers and business travelers.
She said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of Homeland Security, already looks at the social media activities of prospective immigrants. Also, immigration applicants must provide English translations of required documents, she said, and USCIS officers typically interview entire families, including young children, seeking to resettle in the U.S.
Currently, interviews are required for non-immigrant visa applicants ages 14 to 79.
Saying it does not comment on pending legislation, Homeland Security declined to say how provisions of Banks’ bill would differ from current reviews of visas.
Banks’ legislation also would deploy a Homeland Security employee to all visa-issuing embassies and consulates and direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to review and report to Congress on the visa process 18 months after its enactment.