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New Social Media Disclosure Requirements for U.S. Visa Applications

According to a new U.S. policy that started in late May, foreigners who wish to obtain visas to enter the United States are expected to disclose information associated with their online social media accounts. The State Department’s visa application website now includes a section with a drop-down menu that lists more than a dozen social networks. Applicants are directed to select all the social media platforms they’ve used in the last five years, and they must also disclose their usernames.

The new rule is part of a series of measures enacted by the administration of President Donald Trump, ostensibly for the purpose of increasing national security, but it doesn’t apply to individuals who are traveling to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program, which includes 38 countries that form part of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. For example, a traveler from the United Kingdom won’t have to disclose such information as long as his or her visit for tourism or business purposes doesn’t extend beyond 90 days. If, on the other hand, the same British individual is applying for an employment-based visa, he or she would have to disclose information for all personal accounts on social media, such as LinkedIn.

Not all social networks are on the current State Department list, which includes popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Networks primarily used in countries considered to be adversaries of the U.S. are also on the list. To this effect, VKontakte from Russia and Tencent Weibo from China are listed. Snapchat, Tinder, and Quora are conspicuously absent, but they may be included at a later time.

It should be noted that visa applicants aren’t expected to disclose their passwords, but the mere fact that this information is being requested has raised concerns among advocates of civil liberties. Adjudication of visa applications and immigration petitions is a highly subjective exercise as it is. For example, it’s not difficult to imagine visa requests being declined on the basis of social media updates that reflect strong opinions against the policies of the Trump administration. Even more concerning would be, for example, an adjudicator looking up a Facebook timeline filled with conversations related to living and working in San Diego, as this could be construed as an intention to permanently reside in the U.S. instead of visiting relatives. The individual seeking the visa would definitely benefit by seeking the advice of attorneys who specialize in immigration services in San Diego.

What visa applicants should keep in mind is that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicators have been reviewing social media activity for years, but they’ve done so without explicitly requesting account information. It could be assumed they used biographical data to guide their online searches.

One problem that could arise from this new practice is foreigners being denied entry or immigration benefits because of social media information that isn’t consistent with application data. Switching social media profiles to private now could assuage some of these concerns, but it would take a few weeks before all posts are removed from the Google cache. Moreover, comments made on public profiles will still be visible. Foreigners worried about how their social media activity could impact their visa approvals should consult a San Diego immigration attorney before submitting their applications.

People who need more information about visas should be sure to seek the advice of experienced immigration lawyers. San Diego residents are urged to reach out to the knowledgeable immigration attorneys at KS Visa Law. We can assist you with a wide variety of issues related to immigration, including employment and family immigration. Call us today at 858-874-0711 to schedule a consultation.

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