The Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson sent Diplomatic cables to all American embassies instructing consular officials to largely increase the scrutiny.
The cables were sent after President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order restricting travel from most Muslim countries on March 6.
Others say that the social media checks, which are rarely performed by consular officials, will add another bureaucratic layer to an existing screening process that's already lengthy and hard to follow. According to Reuters, the final cable gave consular chiefs instructions to convene groups of law enforcement and intelligence officials to "develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny".
Advocates and immigration lawyers said the guidance could lead to visa applicants being profiled on the basis of nationality or religion rather than because they pose an actual threat to the U.S.
"Consular officers must disregard the guidance" in the March 15 directive, according to the cable, unless and until the Department has received approval.
The Trump administration has instructed all its diplomatic missions worldwide to identify certain groups that need extra scrutiny and adopt a rigorous vetting process for issuing visas. Trump had first claimed that he ill ban all Muslims from entering the United States but he backed away from his claims and promised "extreme vetting" of those hopeful of coming to the country. The second order was also blocked by the courts this month as well.
The first two cables were sent on March 10 and 15, before a federal judge in Hawaii ordered a temporary restraining order nationwide on the travel ban on the evening of March 15.
Tillerson's memos appear to anticipate some delays, noting that the new screening process "may cause interview appointment backlogs to rise", and urge consular officials to reduce the number of visa interviews each day.
The State Department stressed upon the embassy officials to postpone or reschedule interviews if an applicant fails to provide the information asked by the interviewer.
"All visa decisions are national security decisions", he added.
Visa applicants from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and members of populations identified by consular officers as security risks, would have been required to provide details of where they had lived, traveled, and worked over the past 15 years, as well as all phone numbers, email addresses, and social media handles used in the past five years.
This report contains material by Reuters.