by Hajra Tahir
Since rising to power, Trump’s administration has been said to propagate a status-driven, incursive and generally mislead foreign policy.
From his vernacular, to ‘Lou Dobbs’ inspired trade war with China, to the most recent amendments to the visa policy – the United States is recoiling from its central position as a world power with multiple global connections and is adopting an increasingly isolationist position.
These new changes to the visa application will affect 15 million applicants, 900,000 of which are estimated to be applicants from the Indian subcontinent. The applicants will be required to hand over their usernames for a myriad of different social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube and Weibo to peruse 5 years’ worth of digital history, in order to comb out suspicious activity with the aim of protecting American civilians from potential terrorist threats. These measures will be implemented for visas of all kind, including tourist visas. The implications of the redacted policy are as follows.
Effects on Tourism
The United States’ tourism industry is predicted to absorb the bulk of the damage. In previous years having generated $1.6 trillion worth of income, the tourist industry can be considered an integral component of the US’ services exports. Accounting for 32% of revenue in this category. Since Trump’s inauguration however, the number of international visitors to the United States has dropped by 700,000 in the first quarter of 2017. The largest reductions in foreign travellers are from the Middle East and Africa. The radical Republican election manifesto can be thought to contribute towards this phenomenon, which has now been dubbed the ‘Trump Slump’.
However, the flat performance of inbound tourism can be attributed to much more than Trump’s somewhat tyrannical persona. China’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued anotherformal warning on 4thJune 2019 about the dangers of travelling to the US. The Public service announcement warned of:
“visa restrictions, prolonged review times, shortened time validity and a rising rate of visa rejections” as well as issuing statements such as the following – “Public Security in the United States is not good. Cases of shooting robbery and theft are frequent.”
Although, it can be easily deduced that such political statements have been issued deliberately to curb the profitability of tourism in the US, in light of strained China- US economic relations – the specific impact of the growing restraints on visa applicants has cultivated the animosity between the two superpowers. This is evidenced by the fact that Chinese tourism to the US has reached the lowest it has ever been in the last 15 years.
Conversely it can be seen that countries formerly renowned to possess a comparatively more fragile tourism sector, such as Pakistan are advancing their efforts to create a greater incentive for international travellers by extending American visas to 5 years; despite facing a recent curtailment of 5 years to 1 for US visas. This illustrates the US’ shrinking global influence and exhibits the retrospective nature of its foreign involvement and policies – as touched upon earlier.
The second prong of discussion revolves around the extent to which these recent measures inhibit the likelihood of terrorist activity in the US. How effective the new visa policy is in deterring external threats is central to the discussion regarding its validity as a piece of legislation and the existence of furtive motives and agendas. Overall the measure can be seen to be somewhat ineffective.
This is because of the very nature of the digital space – things are easily erased. Tweets can be deleted, posts can be un-liked, and if there is no one to hold you to account, files are not easily retrievable. In a world of complex cyber technology, encrypting messages and communicating through a secure connection is neither difficult, nor uncommon. What is more, it becomes increasingly likely that applicants, upon being made aware of these new measures, will become more vigilant when posting on social media – subverting the very purpose of the amendment to the procedure.
The very notion that terrorist threats and activity can be caught by analysing social media platforms, can be thought to be somewhat unpragmatic. This is further bolstered when considering the root of the most recent terrorist incidents in the United States.
39,773 people were killed in the US in 2018 as a result of gun violence. It can be deduced that such incidents constitute a major threat to the security of American civilians as oppose to external forms of terrorism and should thus be given precedence when addressing the safety of the state. Yet, this ‘foreigner focussed’ visa policy can be seen to undermine itself by diverting protectionist measures away from internal volatility present within the state and focussing on a more innocuous ‘threat.’
Freedom of Speech
The last of the threefold impact of Trump’s visa policy beckons the question of: how far the amendment to visa protocol infringes upon human rights and freedom of speech? Is it possible to incriminate yourself by posting a political opinion on social media? Has terrorism become synonymous with having controversial views that don’t conform with that of the state’s?
The direction in which Trump’s foreign policy is going, seems to imply as such. Having discussed the drawbacks and supposed advantages of the policy, it is difficult to identify how effective it will be in ensuring the security of the state and whether it is anything more than a method to legitimise fear mongering and curtail autonomy.
Hajra is in the first year of her undergraduate Law with Politics degree at the University of Manchester. With an interest in international relations, literature and travelling she aims to hopefully supplement her future career as a city lawyer with pro-bono work and an involvement in civil and human rights.