Visa Applicants to Provide Social Media History

The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) is expanding its background checks for visa applicants to include social media profiles. According to DHS, this collection of information is necessary to assess a person’s ability to enter the US and/or receive an immigration-related benefit.

DHS will collect social media handles used by most visa applicants dating back 5 years, but DHS will not collect social media passwords. DHS personnel will only be able to see information that is shared publicly.

Using social media to deny a person entry to the US became a national issue recently when incoming Harvard University freshman, Ismail B. Ajjawi (17 years old), was denied entry due to social media posts. According to the student, he arrived at Boston Logan International Airport and was questioned heavily, his phone and laptop were searched and then he was asked about his friends’ social media activity. His visa was cancelled, and he was deported. Once the story gained significant media attention, the student was able to enter the US, just in time for the start of the semester.

The DS-160 is the electronic form used to make an appointment with a US Consulate. Most non-immigrant visa applications require the submission of a DS-160. In the most recent version of the form, applicants are asked about their social media presence within the last five years and to list their usernames for any of the following platforms:

  • Ask.fm
  • Douban
  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • Google +
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Qzone
  • Reddit
  • Sina Weibo
  • Tencent Weibo
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • Twoo
  • Vine
  • Vkontakte
  • Youku
  • YouTube

These new rules also come after a separate policy update which allows US Citizenship and Immigration Services to create fake social media accounts to identify threats and detect immigration fraud.

Social media posts not only help detect threats and fraud in the immigration system but can also reveal if an applicant has worked in the US illegally. For example, if a Canadian Management Consultant posted on Instagram that he enjoyed working at Apple’s headquarters in California, that will raise some questions. Did he have a TN visa? Did he accrue unlawful presence in the US?

Social media information will help adjudicators have a full understanding of an applicant’s past and lead to more informed decisions. However, there are clearly privacy concerns at play as well. Nevertheless, as of now, most visa applicants will be required to provide their social media history. If you are concerned that your social media may hinder your visa application, call Silver Immigration and we will assess the situation.