Cozen O’Connor: Department of State Requests Social Media Profile Identifiers [Alert]

Department of State Requests Social Media Profile Identifiers

July 1, 2019

The Department of State (DOS) recently updated its immigrant and nonimmigrant visa application forms, specifically the DS-160 and DS-260, to request additional information, including social media identifiers. A social media “handle” or “identifier” is any name used by the individual on social media platforms including, but not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The updated visa application forms list the specific social media platforms for which identifiers are being requested. The list of social media platforms is extensive, and the new policy asks visa applicants to list all of their social media identifiers from the last five years. DOS guidance directs visa applicants to provide information associated with all online platforms, applications, and websites used to collaborate, share information, and interact with others and to list the following associated with the applicant’s social media profile:

  • Username
  • Handle
  • Screenname
  • Or, other identifier

Consular officers will not request user passwords to the applicants’ social media profiles. Therefore, applicants should increase the privacy settings on all of their social media accounts. Deleting social media profiles is not a way around the new policy — new applicants must provide their social media identifiers from the last five years.

It is impossible to complete the DS-160 and DS-260 without answering the social media questions. All visa applicants should gather their contact and social media information from the last five years before beginning a DS-160 or DS-260 nonimmigrant visa application. The new update should also result in slower processing times and increased visa denials.

What if the applicant does not use social media? There is an option for an applicant to answer “None,” but such an answer will likely draw scrutiny and consular officers can independently search for an applicant’s online presence and can challenge whether the answer is accurate. A material misrepresentation can result in the applicant’s denial and potentially in a finding of fraud. However, given the open-text field, it is possible for an applicant to legitimately answer “unknown” or “I do not recall.”

DOS has stated that it will use the information gathered from applicant social media profiles for vetting purposes in addition to identity verification. The update is a byproduct of both Section 5 of Executive Order 13780 and President Trump’s Memorandum on Implementing Heightened Screening and Vetting of Applications for Visas and other Immigration Benefits.

All nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applicants will be required to answer these questions relating to their social media profiles, except for applicants applying for the following types of nonimmigrant visas: A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (except attendants, servants, or personal employees of accredited officials), G-1, G-2, G3, G-4, NATO-1, NATO-2, NATO-3, NATO-4, NATO-5, or NATO-6 visas. The new policy is expected to affect 15 million visa applicants annually. Prior to this change, foreign nationals were not required to provide their social media history unless they were deemed to be a heightened security concern. While this updated policy only applies to new visa applicants, previously approved applicants are continually screened to ensure that their eligibility to travel to the United States is maintained.

The new policy will provide DOS with all the personal data typically shared on social media, from photos to locations of the applicants’ whereabouts. When the policy was initially proposed, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and various privacy, civil, and immigrant rights organizations joined in opposition of the new policy, citing concerns with First Amendment and privacy rights. However, now that the new update has gone into effect, applicants should ensure that their social and professional media profiles have accurate and updated employment history information to avoid inconsistencies.

 


Authors

Frances Rayer

Member

frayer@cozen.com

(215) 665-3704

Velika A. Nespor

Associate

vnespor@cozen.com

(215) 665-4718

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