Visa USA Social Media Vetting: New Mandatory Disclosure Rules
With effect from June 1 2019, all US visa applicants are required to provide their social media details under new US State Department rules. The change will affect the 15 million non-US nationals filing US immigration petitions each year.
US visa application forms for both immigrant and non-immigrant visa classifications have been updated and now ask applicants to submit all of their social media identifiers from the preceding five years. This applies to accounts across all social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and 15 others.
Who does the new rule apply to?
Prior to June 2019, social media vetting had been limited to individuals who had already been identified for further examination, such as those who had travelled to certain places deemed to be under terrorist control.
The new rules however affect all US visa applicants, irrespective of nationality, immigration history or reason for travel to the US, whether to work or to study – all now have to hand over this information as part of their visa application.
Only certain diplomatic and official visa applicants will be exempt.
The latest extreme vetting measure
The State Department has justified the new social medial disclosure requirement by saying it needs this data to determine whether visa applicants meet the standards to be granted a visa, to “root out fraud and identify misrepresentations that disguise potential threats”.
The move forms part of the US administration’s extreme vetting initiative, which is primarily looking for information that might point to a terrorism threat. It follows initial earlier trials in the US of traveler social vetting. In 2016, an optional question to provide social media identifiers was asked of travellers applying for visa-free admission to the US.
According to a State Department official, social media accounts will be checked against government watchlists to identify any “red flags” that would see the applicant subject to further research to ascertain the level of potential risk or threat. The data will be added to the information already provided by applicants, such as telephone numbers, international travel activities and deportation history and whether any family members have been involved in terrorist activities.
What does the new disclosure requirement mean for US visa applicants?
The authority has warned travellers that providing false information would have “serious immigration results”.
So while visa applicants can respond to the question by saying they have no social media accounts, as with all aspects of US immigration applications, full disclosure is advised. Applicants still operate under the burden to prove they meet the requirements for a US visa, and complying with all elements of the application process is critical.
While visa applicants must disclose their account handles and usernames, we understand that consular officers will not request user passwords and will not attempt to subvert any privacy controls the applicant may have implemented on their social media platforms.
We therefore recommend that travellers ensure the privacy settings on all of their social media accounts are optimized.
It is not yet clear if the details will be used by adjudicators routinely to delve further into the information submitted by applicants in their application or during their visa interview, or if the new disclosure requirement will result in additional questioning of applicants.
Likewise, it is not yet known if visa processing times will be affected – interview waiting times and adjudication delays may arise if applicants’ social media accounts are actively being scrutinized.
The amount of data now being collated and used by US is latest measure will no doubt be of further concern to visa applicants who are subject to increasing levels of scrutiny when applying for US visas.
As I commented in the UK Financial Times, the rising barriers to entry are the worst we’ve seen in 15 years in the field. There has been a 108 per cent increase in refusals of inadmissible persons at US ports of entry in 2018 compared with 2015, according to data from US Customs and Border Protection. Under this administration, the level of increased scrutiny of visa applications has hit the next level, with more data sharing, and information gathering than ever before, and something that a visa applicant may believe would remain hidden is now rising to the surface. We’re getting inquiries at a rate that we’ve not seen before, in articular from high-ranking employees wanting “discreet advice” before accepting jobs involving US travel or to get a visa in advance to ward off any concerns or questions by an employer about why they can’t take the next flight out to New York if the job requires it.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.