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Department of State Has Started Collecting Social Media Information from Visa Applicants

June 21, 2019
Ana Maria Echiburu Tyrrell

On May 31, 2019, the Department of State updated its nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applications, Form DS-160 and DS-260 respectively, to include questions related to social media identifiers. This update to the forms was initially announced in the Federal Register in response to the administration’s Memorandum on Implementing Heightened Screening and Vetting of Applications for Visas and other Immigration Benefits and Section 5 of Executive Order 13780 entitled “Implementing Uniform Screening and Vetting Standards for All Immigration Programs.”

On the updated forms, you will have to select social media platforms that you have used within the 5 years prior to submission of the application. It will provide you with a drop-down menu where you can select all social media platforms that apply. You are then to provide your usernames and/or handles. If you have not used social media within the last 5 years, you can select “none.” The Department of State has also announced that it will later update the forms to include a request for all phone numbers and email addresses used within the 5 years prior to application.

The Department of State cites national security as its purpose for collecting this additional information as it is “constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United State.” While it may be good intentioned, some argue there is no evidence that social media provides the government with reliable markers of a security threat. At a minimum, this new practice is likely to cause confusion and create misconceptions during the visa application process. Many people use social media to present a life that isn’t reality – people make careers out of it. Therefore, it is easy to imagine a scenario in which an officer views an applicant’s social media account and, as a result, has misconceptions regarding the applicant’s relationship to a sponsoring family member, a person’s work history, trips in and out of the U.S., violation of controlled substance laws, etc. This could lead to further questioning, delays, or even denials of applications.

If you have used social media within the last 5 years, it is imperative that you take this information into account and ensure your social media is accurate and up to date. This could ensure smoother processing of your nonimmigrant or immigrant visa. If you would like more information regarding how your social media may influence your visa application, please contact an attorney at https://www.mmhpc.com/attorney-profiles/.

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