NEW YORK—The Trump Administration’s plans to require visa applicants to submit five years of personal information including social media handles and email addresses is likely to produce a widespread chilling effect on online speech, and raises fears that the government will bar entry to the United States to anyone whose views it dislikes, PEN America said in a statement today. 

These steps are an escalation of the government’s efforts to gain more information about the social media use of travelers seeking to enter the U.S. In late 2016, the State Department added questions asking some travelers seeking entry under the visa-waiver program to disclose their social media accounts to visa forms, but claimed they were “optional.” The new rules make this disclosure mandatory for almost all visa applicants.

“Requiring visa applicants to provide the U.S. government with information about the last five years of their social media usage is an invasive and extremely broad requirement that will undoubtedly chill a wide range of online speech, not only from those seeking entry to the U.S. but from the people they correspond with online,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs. “In the context of the Trump Administration’s xenophobic and cruel treatment of immigrants, it suggests a deliberate effort to intimidate and raises the troubling possibility that visas will be granted or denied depending on how much the government likes an individual’s personal opinions and beliefs.” 


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: