U.S. Department of State Begins Collecting Social Media Information: Guidelines and Tips for Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Applicants

Pursuant to a Trump administration Executive Order encouraging increased vetting of visa applicants, the Department of State announced that it would begin requiring 5 years of social media history, including usernames, previous email addresses, and phone numbers. As part of phase one of the increased information collection, Forms DS-160 and DS-260 have been updated to request social media information from applicants for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.

How does the announcement change what information is collected?

Effective on May 31, 2019, a new question was added to Forms DS-160 and DS-260 requiring the disclosure of visa applicants’ social media identifiers for all accounts used within the last five years.

The forms direct visa applicants to provide identifiers related to specific social media platforms used to interact with others online. The new questions ask visa applicants to list the username, handle, or screenname associated with a profile or account. For example, for Twitter or Instagram a sample handle or username might be @janedoe123. For Facebook, LinkedIn, and other platforms, you may be asked to provide the full name used for the account, as well as a link to page(s). The updated visa application forms list the specific social media platforms for which identifiers are being requested. If you have multiple usernames or accounts within the last five years, all of your social media accounts should be included on the form. 

Which social media platforms are requested?

Currently, the below platforms are requested on the two forms:

Ask.FM Instagram Reddit Twoo
Douban LinkedIn Sina Weibo Vine
Facebook Myspace Tencent Weibo Vkontakte (VK)
Flickr Pinterest Tumblr Youku
Google+ Qzone (QQ) Twitter YouTube

What limits are in place to protect applicant’s privacy?

Consular officers may only ask for the applicant’s social media identifiers and are not permitted to request any passwords nor will they have the ability to access privacy controls applicants may have implemented. According to a DOS Supporting Statement, consular staff will be directed:

  • “not to engage or interact with individual visa applicants on or through social media when conducting assessments of visa eligibility;
  • not to request user passwords in furtherance of this collection;
  • not to violate or attempt to subvert individual privacy settings or controls the applicants may have implemented on social media platforms;
  • and not to use social media or assess an individual’s social media presence beyond established Department guidance.”

Individuals also do not need to share company or organization profiles if multiple other employees have access and control over those accounts.

What if the visa applicant doesn’t have any social media accounts?

A response is required to the questions related to social media on forms DS-160 and DS-260. Even if you choose to delete a social media account prior to your application, it must be listed on the form if it existed within the last five years. However, visa applicants who have never used social media will not be refused on the basis of failing to provide a social media identifier since the form does allow the applicant to respond to the question with an answer of “None.” Applicants should complete the application as completely and honestly as possible to avoid any delays in processing or unfavorable decisions.

What additional questions are being added in phase two?

The Department of State plans to add questions on the following topics in phase two:

  • An optional free-text field for applicants to provide identifiers associated with any other social media platforms during the five years preceding the date of application, other than those platforms listed.
  • Five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses, and international travel;
  • All prior immigration violations; and
  • Whether specified family members have been involved in terrorist activities.

How will consular officers use the information collected?

The rule posted in the Federal Register outlines that the Department of State will use the social media information for “identity resolution and vetting purposes based on statutory visa eligibility standards.” Visa applicants should consider that publicly available information they have posted on social media could be used during adjudication and processing of their visa applications.

In a Supporting Statement, the Department of State specifically notes that the social media information will be used to understand “existing and evolving threats to national security, to enable more rigorous evaluation of applicants.” The statement goes on to claim:

“Within consular and fraud prevention sections of Department’s overseas posts, public-facing social media information may be reviewed to assess potential visa fraud that would lead to a conclusion that the applicant is not eligible for a visa.  For example, information on social media pages or posts may be used to validate legitimate relationships or employment required for visa eligibility, to identify indicia of fraud, or to identify misrepresentations that disguise potential threats.”

Social Media Tips for Visa Applicants

When evaluating their social profiles, visa applicants should make sure their employment history is accurately reflected and that other posts do not conflict with information included in the visa application. Applicants should be truthful about any social media profiles in existence, as neglecting to include that information could be seen as a misrepresentation or an attempt to conceal information. This could not only lead to delayed processing times, but also potential denials of the current and future applications.

Main Visa Ineligibilities

Code Section:

(b) Every alien (other than a nonimmigrant described in subparagraph (L) or (V) of section 101(a)(15), and other than a nonimmigrant described in any provision of section 101(a)(15)(H)(i) except subclause (b1) of such section) shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa, and the immigration officers, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status under section 101(a)(15).

  1. g) No visa or other documentation shall be issued to an alien if (1) it appears to the consular officer, from statements in the application, or in the papers submitted therewith, that such alien is ineligible to receive a visa or such other documentation under section 212, or any other provision of law, (2) the application fails to comply with the provisions of this Act, or the regulations issued thereunder, or (3) the consular officer knows or has reason to believe that such alien is ineligible to receive a visa or such other documentation under section 212, or any other provision of law.

Specific Ineligibilities Outlined by Department of State:

A Supporting Statement for the DS-160 changes specifically draws attention to the following ineligibilities (emphasis added):

“Among the grounds of ineligibility are those related to the health of the applicant, the applicant’s past and present criminal activities, security concerns, potential for the applicant to become a public charge, and previous violations of the INA by the applicant; however, not all grounds of ineligibility apply to all visa classifications.  In the visa application form, applicants are asked a series of questions relevant to a determination of visa eligibility.”

Below are some examples of social media information that may conflict with restrictions on various visa types. Please direct any additional questions to info@challalaw.com.

VISA TYPE REQUIREMENTS EXAMPLES OF CONFLICTING INFORMATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Nonimmigrant visas that don’t allow dual intent (i.e. B-1, F-1, etc.) MUST INTEND TO RETURN TO THEIR HOME COUNTRY 1.    Posts about their impending marriage in the U.S.

2.    Posts about being out of work

3.    Posts about family in the U.S. that weren’t disclosed on the visa application

F-1 MUST INTEND TO STUDY IN THE U.S. 1.    A LinkedIn update about his/her new job in the U.S.
B-1 MUST NOT ENGAGE IN WORK ACTIVITIES 1. Posts about going to their company’s U.S. office to work on a project
Family-based visa VALID MARRIAGE 1.    Posting lots of photos of fun times with friends but not with one’s U.S. citizen spouse

2.    Failing to say a thing about one’s wedding despite having posted about every other major and minor incident in one’s life for the past year

L-1 MUST WORK ONE YEAR OUT OF LAST THREE IN RELATED QUALIFYING ENTITY 1. LinkedIn profile shows that the individual worked for unrelated entities for past three years
2. Posts showing that the individual started their job with the entity less than one year prior
Immigrant Visas MUST NOT BE LIKELY TO BECOME A “PUBLIC CHARGE” 1. Facebook posts bemoaning one’s financial situation
2. GoFundMe or other crowdfunding pages asking for money
Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visas NO INADMISSIBLE BEHAVIOR 1.    Bragging about having engaged in criminal activity

2.    Mentioning illegal use of drugs

3.    Mentioning legal use of drugs in another country (but the specific drugs are illegal in the U.S.)