As WR has noted in previous blogs, in this era of heightened scrutiny of would-be immigrants, social media accounts are no exception.
The Department of State now requires both temporary and permanent visa applicants, among others, to list their social media accounts. In September 2019, the government expanded these efforts to immigration benefit requests or traveler forms where the information was not already collected. Digital information may be scrutinized not only for security reasons, but also to make sure facts on a person’s social media account match what’s stated in the application.
When completing a nonimmigrant or immigrant visa application (Forms DS-160 and DS-260), for example, the applicant must list “each social media platform used within the last five years.” For each platform, the visa applicant must enter every username. In addition to the most common social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the Department is reviewing many other platforms, such as LinkedIn, Reddit, Tumblr, and YouTube, along with other platforms used globally. Further, according to reports, immigration officers are searching publicly available information on people and businesses, including on Google.
New Expansion of Social Media Scrutiny
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) noted in a September 4, 2019, notice announcing the expansion of social media scrutiny that this information collection does not include passwords, and that DHS personnel “will review information on social media platforms in a manner consistent with the privacy settings the applicant has chosen to adopt for those platforms. Only that information which the account holder has allowed to be shared publicly will be viewable by DHS.”
The notice further states that although such collection of social media user identifications is “mandatory” to complete the DHS forms, it is not required to obtain or retain a benefit. However, for some applications, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP)’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), and Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS) forms, the applicant will be unable to submit the online application if he or she does not provide a response to the mandatory social media field. The applicant may proceed by answering “none” or “other.” CBP said it will continue to adjudicate forms where social media information is not provided, but “failure to provide the requested data may either delay or make it impossible for CBP to determine an individual’s eligibility for the requested benefit.”
For U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the notice states, the proposed information collection also is not “mandatory” in the sense that an application will be denied or rejected based solely on the lack of a response. As with CBP, however, failure to provide the requested data may lead to delays or USCIS being unable to determine eligibility.
What to Do?
Applicants are advised to review their social media accounts and complete their forms carefully, keeping in mind that posts will be reviewed for any discrepancies in employment locations and positions, or places of residence. Applicants should ensure that their information remains consistent and accurate across their various applications and social media accounts. The government retains records of past visa applications and is increasingly cross-referencing them when new applications are filed.
- Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP blog, “U.S. Visa Applications Now Require Disclosure of Social Media Handles“
- Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP blog, “Big Brother is Watching – 4 Things to Know About Applying for U.S. Visas and Citizenship in the Digital Information Age“
- Related Federal Register notices, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/03/30/2018-06496/60-day-notice-of-proposed-information-collection-application-for-nonimmigrant-visa, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/09/04/2019-19021/agency-information-collection-activities-generic-clearance-for-the-collection-of-social-media
- News articles, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/02/us/us-visa-application-social-media.html, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/world/americas/travelers-visa-social-media.html?action=click&module=RelatedCoverage&pgtype=Article®ion=Footer
- Timeline of social media monitoring by the Departments of Homeland Security and State