US VISAS NOW REQUIRE SOCIAL MEDIA INFORMATION FROM APPLICANTS

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq. 

It is good advice to be careful with what you post on your social media accounts because you do not want to be later embarrassed about it.  In the past, this advice has often been given to job applicants. Apparently, this advice should also now be given to foreigners seeking US visas.  Effective May 31, 2019, US visa applications will now require social media information from applicants.

This new rule, outlined by the US State Department in March, 2018, requires visa applicants to disclose their social media usernames on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube from the previous five years.  With this social media information, the government will have access to photos, previously visited locations, dates of milestones, and other personal data regularly shared on social platforms. In a statement, a US State Department official said, “National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. . . . We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States”.

Visa application forms will include the option to indicate that an individual does not use social media, if that is the case.  However, according to the US State Department, if a visa applicant lies or withholds information concerning the use of social media, the applicant, as a result, could face “serious immigration consequences”.

During the Obama administration, the US State Department began to ask visa applicants to voluntarily provide social media information, but generally it was not a mandatory requirement (except for certain visa applicants who were identified for extra screening, such as individuals who had travelled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations).  However, this new rule from the US State Department is part of the Trump administration’s enhanced vetting of immigrants. In addition to social media information, the visa application form (as updated by the Trump administration) also requires the disclosure of personal telephone numbers and email addresses used during the prior five years, as well as the applicant’s international travel and deportation status and whether any of the applicant’s family members have been involved in terrorist activities.     

This new rule from the US State Department is expected to affect approximately 15 million noncitizens who apply for visas to the United States each year.  Only applicants for distinct diplomatic and official visa types are exempted from the new rule.   

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, was critical of this new rule from the Trump administration.  She said, “This is a dangerous and problematic proposal, which does nothing to protect security concerns but raises significant privacy concerns and First Amendment issues for citizens and immigrants. . . . Research shows that this kind of monitoring has chilling effects, meaning that people are less likely to speak freely and connect with each other in online communities that are now essential to modern life”.  Shamsi also commented that the government has been unable to prove that social media can provide reliable indications that identify a security threat. “In the absence of any such indicators, what we’ve seen domestically and abroad is government officials penalizing people’s speech, religious affiliation and other conduct”, Shamsi said.  

Already facing numerous issues as a result of the policies of the Trump administration, immigrants now must face another possible concern – their social media history.  If you are or will be seeking a US visa, you must be careful with your social media activity. The Law Offices of Kameli and Associates has successfully obtained US visas for many foreigners for many years, and can work to help you with any visa issue.  If you are having a concern with receiving a US visa because of your social media history or for any other reason, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for legal representation.