Foreign national workers applying for U.S. visas from abroad are now required to disclose their public social media and contact history from the previous five years.
The Department of State policy directing consular officers to review applicants’ public social media history, past e-mail addresses and recent phone numbers when applying for visas could result in additional screening and visa issuance delays.
Review of social media information has been used in some visa adjudications since 2017 but can now be used in all visa applications originating abroad.
Applicants for all visas must now complete DS-160 or DS-260 online applications using the Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center. Foreign nationals will be asked to:
- Disclose the social media platforms they have used within the previous five years.
- Provide their username for each platform; passwords are not required.
- Provide current e-mail and phone number details, and e-mail addresses and phone numbers used in the previous five years.
The forms cover popular U.S.-based social media platforms such as Facebook, Flickr, Google Plus, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and YouTube; Chinese sites Douban, Qzone, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo and Youku; and Russian social network Vkonttakte.
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The State Department said the additional information—along with contact information, travel history, family member information and previous addresses—will strengthen efforts to vet applicants and confirm identity.
“People coming to the United States make representations in visa applications—or employers make them for people in visa petitions—about what they are coming to the U.S. to do, what their current occupation is, etc., and sometimes people’s social media accounts may provide information the government could interpret as contradicting those representations,” said immigration attorney Andrew Greenfield, Fragomen Worldwide managing partner based in the Washington, D.C. office. “The social media screening is one more tool allowing the government to play ‘gotcha.’ ”
The agency began asking visa applicants to submit their social media information voluntarily during the Obama administration.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump initiated what he called “extreme vetting”: intensified screening of visa applications, including social media accounts of visa applicants from countries designated as national security threats.
“Given the amount of information shared on social media sites and the potential for misinterpretation, visa applicants should exercise good judgment and be mindful of the fact that the Department of State may access and review social media profiles and misunderstand posted content,” said Olivia Minnis, an attorney in the Miami office of Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney. “In light of these recent changes, visa applicants should consider the possibility that their activities on social media could be easily misconstrued and held against them during the processing of their visa applications.”
Kathleen Walker, an attorney in the El Paso, Texas, office of Dickinson Wright, advised visa applicants and their sponsors to prepare for the additional time it will take to complete the applications as well as potential processing delays. “Visa refusals could be expected to increase as well,” she said.
“Visa applicants may be wise to reduce their social media participation in light of this change to protect their privacy,” Walker said.
She said visa applicants can ask consular officers for clarity if they are unsure about how to respond to questions about their social media activity. “Employers should also consider providing advisories regarding this development as well to their foreign employees to reduce potential errors.”
Visa applicants should ensure that their LinkedIn profiles have accurate and updated employment history information to avoid inconsistencies between their online accounts and visa application, Minnis said.
Remember that the DS-160 and DS-260 forms are submitted by the applicant under penalty of perjury. A visa may be denied if the applicant makes a willful misrepresentation in the application.
“The failure to volunteer information does not, however, in itself constitute a misrepresentation,” Walker said. But the forms do not provide an option to refuse to answer, she added. “If the applicant chooses the option ‘none’ as his or her reply when it is not a truthful answer, the response could expose in certain circumstances the applicant to denial.”